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Thursday, November 13, 2008
New Orleans, Gambling, and the NBA

The Times-Picayune has an interesting story up about Phil Jackson’s reaction to an advertisement for Harrah’s New Orleans Casino in the visiting locker room in the New Orleans Arena. Here’s what Jackson said:

We talked about this last year….We thought it wasn't a good message at all. One side of it says don't gamble, and the other side you are advertising for it….This is a franchise that is led by a good Christian leader. He has prayer(sessions) before the games. I'm sure he knows what he's doing.

This raises a number of interesting questions. There is no question that Tim Donaghy’s actions directly threatened the integrity of basketball. You won’t find many people arguing that NBA players or referees should be allowed to bet on an NBA game, even one they are not playing in or officiating. You also won’t find many people arguing that NBA players or referees should be allowed to engage in illegal activity. Both types of behavior harm the image of the game and it is understandable that the NBA would take action to prevent such behavior. It is certainly absurd to think that an NBA team would place an advertisement for a sports book (or a drug dealer) in an NBA locker room. But, what about an advertisement for legal activity that does not violate any NBA rules? In other words, what about an ad for Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans?

One cannot place bets on sporting events in the Harrah’s Casino in New Orleans, and all of the other forms of gambling that take place in the casino (slot machines, poker, blackjack, craps, roulette, etc.) are legal. The casino is prominently located just outside of the French Quarter, is a major sponsor of the Hornets, is frequented by thousands of tourists per day, and houses one of the top (if not most expensive) restaurants in New Orleans.

What, precisely, is Phil Jackson’s concern? Is he concerned with the possibility that NBA players may lose large sums of money legally gambling in the casino, and therefore be more tempted to gamble on NBA games? Is he concerned with the possibility legal gambling in a casino is a gateway to illegal gambling? Or, is he concerned with all forms of gambling? In other words, is Jackson drawing a line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, with all forms of gambling falling on the unacceptable side of the line? If so, is that an appropriate line to draw? Jackson might argue that the line is appropriate because the Donaghy scandal is the NBA’s Black Sox scandal, so any appearance of impropriety or association with impropriety must be eliminated to protect the sport. But, is the Donaghy scandal really the modern-day equivalent of the Black Sox scandal? Perhaps this is a credit to David Stern and the rest of the NBA front office, but the story seems to have disappeared from the headlines pretty quickly. And, even if the Donaghy scandal is a modern-day Black Sox Scandal (or Black-Sox Lite, or Black-Sox Zero, as Coke might call it), is there a problem with NBA players playing poker in a card room in a Harrah’s Casino, in the very same card room where ESPN has televised poker tournaments?


I say this as someone that sincerely has the utmost respect for Phil Jackson, grew up in Chicago during the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s, and whose favorite athlete of all-time is Michael Jordan: it is ironic that Jackson would make a comment like this when the superstar that essentially brought him six championships is well known for blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time at the blackjack table.

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