Liberated from most of his his duties by the Toronto City Council, Mayor Rob Ford has decided to devote more time to talking about football. Today WJFK-FM in Washington, DC announced Ford would appear tomorrow on its popular morning program “The Sports Junkies” to pick NFL games. Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post reported that Ford’s representative told “Junkies” producers that he’d be happy to pick games against-the-spread rather than straight up.
Now, betting on individual NFL games is illegal in Canada. And as I’ve reported on extensively, legislation to repeal the criminal ban on single-game betting has been stalled in the Canadian Senate since mid-2012. Coincidentally, a key supporter of the legislation, Conservative Sen. David Braley, resigned yesterday for unexplained reasons. (I don’t mean to imply anything unsavory; Braley was only three years away from the Senate’s mandatory retirement age of 75.) Braley also owns two Canadian Football League teams, including Mayor Ford’s hometown Toronto Argonauts, and he is to my knowledge the only professional sports owner to speak in favor of decriminalization.
The official line from opponents of the Canadian legislation, known as C-290, is that any move toward decriminilization will inevitably lead to corruption of sporting events. Indeed, Conservative MP Michael Chong–the champion of parliamentary reform from yesterday’s post–argued last year that prohibition works, claiming, “There has not been a major betting scandal in North America since Major League Baseball created the Commissioner of Baseball in response to the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.” This is a false claim, of course, as there have been a number of point-shaving and gambling scandals in the intervening century (does the name “Pete Rose” ring a bell?)
For his part, Sen. Braley had this terrific exchange during a November 2012 Senate committee hearing with Tim Rahilly, a college administrator from Vancouver testifying against C-290, over the ridiculousness of the current single-game betting ban:
Senator Braley: I will ask you one question. We bet now on three games. What is the difference in betting on one game, from your point of view? The B.C. Lottery Corporation has already produced the software to go online. The question is whether they go online with three games or two games. They have done it for all the other provinces, from what I understand at this point, and are moving forward very strongly in that area.
Mr Rahilly: My understanding is that it is more difficult to fix three games or have influence on three games.
Senator Braley: All athletes sign an agreement that they are suspended for life if they bet on a game. That is one of the things that all professional athletes and all amateur athletes are told about when they start. It is something you just do not do. If you do, you do not ever play the game again.
Mr Rahilly: If you get caught.
Senator Braley: Yes. How can one little guy fix a game? We have about $4 billion going offshore from Canada to bet365 in England, which is over a billion. We have Africa. We have the Caribbean. I really believe that money should stay in our provincial coffers, whether it is three games or two games or one game. That is just my personal opinion.
The Deputy Chair: Was that a question, senator?
Senator Braley: The thing is, why would we not want the money in Canada? Why would we want our Canadian money going elsewhere?
Mr Rahilly: I understand the argument fully. I would wonder, if something is illegal, why we are not stopping it.
Senator Braley: I have one more question. Fifty-six per cent of my employees — because I went through and asked my employees — bet online offshore. You would have to go around with the police and put them all in jail. Are you going to put 56 per cent of the population in jail? They are usually under 35 or 40 years of age.
The Deputy Chair: Was that a question?
Senator Braley: I am asking, does that concern you at all?
Senator Baker: It was in response to what the witness said.
Mr Rahilly: Does that concern me?
Senator Braley: Yes.
Mr Rahilly: Which element? The potential of having to arrest the majority of our citizens?
Senator Braley: Yes, they do it now.
Mr Rahilly: Yes, that would concern me.
The cultural taboo against sports betting crumbled long ago. Unfortunately, the political taboo remains strong in some quarters, particularly the unelected (and presently scandal-plagued) Canadian Senate, where a small number of opponents have managed to keep C-290 from reacing a final vote. And I suspect things like Rob Ford picking games against-the-spread on talk radio may reinforce that puritanical opposition.