Mr. Smith should go to Washington – Devo Rides (Part 15)
by Trey Nosrac
One of the most powerful men in the world has been my passenger since February. I like him.
He may be a billionaire, but he never talks about money. We never discussed my fee as his chauffeur. After driving him for a month, he left me a money order for $10,000 in an unmarked envelope on the console where I keep my Diet Coke. The next month he left another envelope with $15,000. That is a pile of money in my circle. The thing is, I would drive him for gas money.
He is humble. He knows he stumbled into wealth, fame and power and never brags. He is the most curious person I have ever met. When I throw some nonsense into our chats, if he does not know much about it, he will know plenty the next time I see him. Not just a quick Google search, he will have studied it, analyzed it and followed threads surrounding it. Crazy stuff like geocaching, or old movies starring Jimmy Stewart, or the future of harness racing can rev him up.
For example, we batted around the PASPA ruling and how it will affect horse racing. The first time we talked, he knew the gambling decision a general sense. The next ride, he had read every single page of the Supreme Court transcript and consulted several legal people. Who does stuff like that?
I think he is lonely. Who knows what happened in his first marriage. He was a kid, and some first marriages can disappear like invisible ink. I don’t think I could pick my first wife out of a police lineup, and Lucinda has probably been in a few.
He is a nice looking, fit, smart, and rich bachelor at age 54. Why? Maybe his first wife burned him. Maybe there are other reasons. He has business friends, but I may be one of his few wacky friends. I seem to amuse him, or maybe he is studying me like a strange fish that washed up onto the beach.
I also heard him talk about moving back home. His exact words into his phone were, “I don’t see any reason that I cannot do as much as I want to do from a porch in Ohio.”
The sun blistered my Prius on Monday afternoon when I arrived at his farmhouse. He jumped into my front seat and handed me an address. I punched it into my GPS. The voice from the dashboard said, “Thirty-one minutes to your destination. Continue to Route 57 and turn right.”
I proceeded to pump him for thoughts about gambling and racing. I opened with, “Let me recap our meandering tête-à-têtes. First, as you predicted, PASPA passed.”
He gave me a thumbs up and said, ”Check.”
“States are free to offer sports gambling.”
“States will offer sports gambling at places like racetracks and casinos.”
He nodded, “Started last week in Delaware, this week in In New Jersey.”
“Other states will follow.”
I added, “You don’t see people will flocking to the state betting shops. You think it will be a bit of a dud and most of them will wait till they can gamble on their devices.”
“That’s how I see it.”
He leaned his head back into the headrest and and said, “Here we get into my world of development operations — actions based on logical predictions and assumptions. Trey, I can’t see anything but chaos. I can’t see any way the federal government doesn’t step in and replace the states in the sports gambling world.”
He said, “Imagine 50 states involved in sports gambling on the Internet. The problems will fill volumes. There would be multiple sports to gamble on, unlimited types of wagers, multiple rules, variations in enforcement, illegal internet scams, cheating, hackings, money laundering, money flowing to the lowest prices and lowliest shysters. State technologies will be slow to keep up with the crooks, prosecutions will take money, overlapping, loopholes, and on and on.”
“If it’s true that states can’t handle it, and I have to admit you have been on target, what does this mean for horse racing and harness racing?”
He continued, “Yeah, I know a little about harness racing. Remember, I told you my grandfather did some racing back in the day. In my opinion, horse racing never had a chance at true growth because of the state model, which made your sport look inward, not outward.
“Some states do okay.”
“Not on their own legs.”
He was firm in his next sentence, “State control is a hard cycle to break for one very simple reason, nobody cedes power willingly.”
I chimed in, “Or gives away money.”
He nodded, “Name another sport that doesn’t have a national or international power structure. State controlled horse racing is a political football dependent on contracts and contacts. The state model leads to less innovation and risk-taking, workers just keep their heads down. States make political appointments who have no idea about the sport. Each neighboring state is a rival. Don’t blame the state power brokers in racing for not sharing or cooperating, they do exactly what you would do in their shoes.”
We rode in silence for a while. Then he said, “Trey, here is my big takeaway. If your favorite sport is to survive, it will be with a federal structure with uniform rules, teeth for enforcement, coordinated schedules, promotion, and research and development. You will need new leaders combined with old racing hands with a mandate to give horse racing a new chance. The only way this will happen is through federal legislation that wrestles power from gnarled state claws.”
I asked, “Why would the federal government take control?”
“Money. This is where politicians who are not in the pockets of lobbyists will need to point out some simple math. Politicians like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington saying: One, people will gamble. Two, if gambling on a national level is properly administrated, the amount of revenue available from taxation that could flow to the public benefit, or to pay down the national debt, is unbelievable. Three, if Americans miss this gambling boat, this money will end up in the hands of multinational corporations or illegal gambling cartels.”
“That’s a mighty big picture for my tiny sport and a mighty tough sell even for Jimmy Stewart in Washington.”
He tilted his head at me and said, “Use It or Lose It might make a good motto for sports gambling revenue. It would make a nice political slogan. Maximizing the harvest of legal sports gambling could be one of the rare times that both red and blue voters could be influenced by public green.”
“Hey, you want a hobby for retirement, you could run.”
He chuckled, “Actually, I have considered it, but a candidate straight from Silicon Valley would carry too much baggage. I would look like a puppet for the big data structure that will need to be involved. Many of my business friends feel like I do about the national model for gambling. They have deep pockets and great interest in supporting candidates for national office who see the gambling future. You could run, I’d put in a good word.”
I snorted out a laugh, “I don’t own a tie and there aren’t enough good words in a thesaurus to cover my tracks.”