RealClearSports recently interviewed Jack Markell, the Governor of Delaware. Gov. Markell is currently embattled with the NFL and the NCAA over his proposal to legalize sports gambling in his state.
RCS: Governor, here are some of the facts surrounding your proposal that would make Delaware the only state east of the Mississippi to allow sports gambling: The state of Delaware is facing a $750 million deficit - over 20 percent of its total budget. You've recently proposed a 8% pay cut for all state employees, but you believe the state can raise additional revenue by legalizing sports betting.
But the NFL is opposed. In a recent ESPN the Magazine piece, an NFL spokesperson said "our policy on the issue has been consistent for decades. We have been an active proponent of federal and state legislation that prohibits the spread of legal sports gambling. We do not want our games used as bait."
Is it your belief that this is a farce? Does the NFL want to put a front up against your proposal for the sole purpose of protecting its image?
Gov. Markell: Well, I put it this way. I certainly respect that the National Football League is entitled to their position, but when they say they're really focused on protecting the integrity of the league and not having sports betting, I think it's really belied by evidence to the contrary if you look through the programming that carries the NFL and generates a lot of money, whether it's ESPN or others. They have the Pigskin Prognosticator, The Swami, they've got a whole bunch that assist sports bettors. We've listed some of those in a letter to the NFL.
Clearly the NFL is benefiting handsomely and mightily from the these networks that talk about the spreads and all that. I think that as a result it's odd that they're trying to limit our ability. Frankly there are so many people who are betting illegally. We're basically saying: "Why don't we bring a type of regulation to this?"
RCS: Let's quickly turn to the point you made about ESPN, because outside the ESPN the Magazine publication, ESPN the broadcast network has made a point not to comment on the debate. In fact, an ESPN spokesperson was recently quoted saying, "It's not our place to comment on the dialogue between the NFL commissioner and the Governor of Delaware."
Do you think its responsible for ESPN the television network, with as many viewers as it reaches, to stay out of this debate?
Gov. Markell: Yeah, I think it's fine because ESPN isn't the one trying to say that we shouldn't. They're not fighting our effort to generate money for the taxpayers of Delaware. It's the NFL. So I can understand ESPN not wanting to get into the middle of it. They're reporting on it, but they've got their programming that they offer and that's to the benefit of their shareholders. I get that. But I just think it's odd for the NFL to say they're so against this when they're benefiting so much from the programming.
RCS: One of the other organizations that's targeting you is the NCAA. In an interview with RCS last week, Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel said that what the NCAA sells to people is a farce. And in a recent column, he quoted North Carolina coach Roy Williams saying, "If we don't want these kids gambling, don't put the Final Four in a city where the casino is five hundred yards from our door."
If your proposal passes, the NCAA has said that it will ban NCAA playoff games from Delaware. Obviously the NCAA is acting hypocritically. But do you think Coach Williams is correct that the NCAA should keep games away from gambling?
Gov. Markell: Well, I think the NCAA is clearly being inconsistent and retaliatory. Beyond what Coach Williams was saying, the Western Athletic Conference hosts its men's and women's tournaments in the Reno. And the winners in those tournaments go on to play in the big tournament. You can actually bet on the Las Vegas Bowl, which is played obviously right there in Vegas. So what appears to be fine in other states for some reason from the NCAA's perspective, doesn't seem to be fine for Delaware. So we think they're being inconsistent and retaliatory.
RCS: What about what Coach Williams' point that he believes the NCAA should essentially not put Final Four games next to a casino?
Gov. Markell: I'm not going to tell the NCAA how to run their operation. I just find it odd that they would be so inconsistent in the application of their beliefs.
RCS: In that same column, Wetzel himself wrote, "One of the best ways to guard against point shaving is to legalize and legitimize sports gambling. It can take it out of the underworlds. Yet the NCAA along with the NFL is lobbying against a proposal by Delaware Governor Jack Markell to reauthorize sports gambling in his state. Markell estimates it can produce $55 million annually in tax revenue."
Do you agree that legalizing sports betting is one of the best ways to take it out of the underworld?
Gov. Markell: I'm not going to comment because I don't know enough about the points shaving piece of it. That I don't know. That's certainly not an argument that I've made.
What I have said is that we believe in having the proper regulatory oversight and enforcement, for example by the Delaware State Police, which is an outstanding law enforcement agency.We think that's a better way of overseeing these bets rather than having them done illegally.
RCS: The legalize-and-regulate approach has given critics the opportunity to draw parallels to the effort to legalize and regulate marijuana. How is this situation different?
Gov. Markell: Well this is not a mind-altering drug, which could lead to a lot of health problems. Our point to the NFL was, what we invited them to do, was meet with some of our law enforcement professionals so they could gain some confidence in the kind of oversight we would provide.
RCS: Federalism is often referred to metaphorically as the laboratory of the states. Ideally your proposal will raise as much as $100 million and help you overcome Delaware's $750 million deficit. But do you have any concerns that this proposal's success will catch on with other states, taking away from Delaware's gambling revenue, and perhaps creating a larger moral issue for the country?
Gov. Markell: The way I look at it is this: Delaware has been in the gambling business for 15 years. I don't believe that Delaware or in any organization being half-pregnant. In my mind this is a comparative advantage. It's a tool that's available to Delaware. It's not available to any other state east of the Mississippi. My job is to do what's in the best interest of Delaware taxpayers, and I believe that by offering this competitor advantage we can generate additional revenue.
Should we be successful, might other States try to emulate us in their state? They might. But they're going have to get this federal law passed, and that's going to be a battle. They might be able to get it done, and if they do that could certainly lead to competition and some declining revenues. It's very special at this point, and what we do know at this point is Delaware has this opportunity available by law that other States don't have, and I think we ought to take advantage of it.
RCS: One of the NFL's threats is that they may send NFL stars to Delaware to lobby against your proposal. You're an Eagles fan. If the NFL sent Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook to Dover to argue against your proposal, do you believe that would hurt your effort in any way?
Gov. Markell: We would welcome them to Delaware. They have a lot of friends here in Delaware. Frankly, a lot of the players around the NFL have friends here in Delaware. But I think the people in Delaware will separate out a high profile visit from a star -- which lots of kids and others would be excited about -- with the fact that this generates $55 million in funds that are needed to pay for teachers, to keep police on the streets, to pay for caregivers who are caring for people who can't care for themselves. So to us, this is not particularly a matter of ideology, it's a matter that we have this tool at our disposal and we ought to take advantage of it. When we do, we can generate funds for services that are certainly needed.
RCS: In this debate you've found some unlikely political allies. Republican House Leader Dick Cathcart has been vocal against the NFL and NCAA. He was quoted by your local paper saying, "The NCAA is blackmailing the State of Delaware into not going with sports betting. I can't wait for someone from the NCAA or the NFL to get up in front of us so we can make fools of them."
Why has your proposal been attractive to Delaware Republicans as well?
Gov. Markell: Because this isn't a Democrat issue or Republican issue. This is an issue that all Delawareans recognize that we've got significant financial challenges. All Delawareans recognize that we have this opportunity that other States east of the Mississippi don't have. Certainly not everybody supports sports gambling, but those who are not philosophically opposed to it recognize that this is a great chance to generate needed money. The fact that outside groups are trying to come in and tell us how to run our State, is just not something that is received very well here.
RCS: One of the key components of your proposal is that bets will need to be parlayed, in other words you can't bet on a single game. Why is that part of the legislation?
Gov. Markell: We are actually asking the Delaware Supreme Court to rule on that. So it's a little premature to say what the product actually ends up looking like. We've asked them for an opinion to define the parameters. That's going to be based in part on what we offered when we had sports betting previously. We've not gotten their advisory opinion yet. As Governor I have the ability to ask the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion, but it's really premature to say what the product's going to look like.
RCS: So again, Delaware is running a $750 million deficit. Would you still be pushing this proposal if it wasn't?
Gov. Markell: Here's how I look at it. To me, and I have a business background, I'm a believer that you take advantage of opportunities that are available, particularly when they're not available to others. You, for example, started with RealClearPolitics and you had an opportunity to leverage a very popular name with your knowledge of sports. So you had a business opportunity that was going be better for you than it was for someone who was trying to start from scratch. In our case I think it's a competitive advantage. It's one we ought to pursue, and the fact that we have this budget shortfall makes it more compelling. I think in any case, though, it's something that we should try and take advantage of.
RCS: One of the big differences between the NCAA and the NFL is a question of age. Obviously the NCAA is at least in some degree acting hypocritically by making a lot of money off of amateur athletes. Why does that make it okay for the State of Delaware to generate revenue off of sports gambling related to amateur athletes competition?
Gov. Markell: Well first of all, our bill would exclude betting on Delaware teams. I think really most of the betting would be in connection with the NFL. Some betting would be in connection with March Madness, which I think would probably be the bulk of the college wagering. That's part of the market of sports in this country. College sports are a very, very big business.
RCS: President Obama's tournament bracket turned out pretty well. How did yours turn out?
Gov. Markell: I didn't get myself organized to do one at the outset. Quite far into it I did pick the UNC men and the UConn women to win it, but I don't think that was particularly insightful of me.