Place Your Bet, Help the Debt

The state of California continues to struggle with debt ($19 billion and counting), has slashed many state jobs, furloughed many of the others, and has no budget in place because the Republicans and Democrats in the legislature can't agree on what's best.  You have to wonder if they could agree on the color of orange juice.  

More cuts are out.  Gov. Schwarzenegger wants more, but the Dems won't let him do it.  The governor has cut just about everything he possibly could and he's considering slashing even more school programs and programs for the elderly.  In November, voters will go to the polls to decide whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed by the state. The grim economic reality is making for possible changes that would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago.

So how about gambling? It's big business and it just might be legalized in California. That's if State Sen. Roderick Wright has his way. He supports a lawsuit that's been filed in New Jersey challenging federal law that only allows gambling in a few states.  Like Nevada.

According to Whittier Law School professor I. Nelson Rose, legal sports betting could bring California about $1 billion annually.  That's a big number (see first paragraph). Wright's committee has a bill on hold that would legalize Internet poker.  Would doing so help open the door for sports gambling and the estimated 10,000 jobs it might create?  

Legalizing sports gambling in the state would require going up against one of the most powerful organizations on the planet.  More powerful than any labor union.  More powerful than any crime syndicate.  More powerful than Ace Parking.  We're talking about the National Football League, and it's a money making machine. Ironically the NFL is the most popular gambling sport.  Each year in Las Vegas, betters plop down nearly $100 million on the Super Bowl alone.  

But the NFL wants no part of legalized gambling in California.  According to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, "...state-operated single-game wagering presents a threat to the long-term health and integrity of our sport." 

New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak has a different take. 

"They're only fighting it because they're not getting a piece of the action" he says.

But would the NFL really have the power to stop the legalization of gambling in California?  It might get tougher if Internet poker gets the green light. With the potential of $1 billion a year in revenue, Californians might want to place their bets on Sen. Wright.

 Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Gov. Schwarzenegger wants to raise taxes.

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