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In New Jersey, Win Or Lose Big From The Comfort Of Your Home


Now to sports.


MARTIN: This past week was a big one for gamblers in the Garden State. New Jersey legalized online gambling, meaning if you're in that state you can log onto a local casino's website and win or lose big, all from the comfort of your own home.

NPR's Mike Pesca has been following this story and he has followed it all the way to the New York bureau, where he joins us now. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: That's like not that far from where I live.



MARTIN: Come on, play along. OK, New Jersey got online gambling legalized, but they hit a larger snag when it comes to sports betting. Please explain.

PESCA: Right. Well, it's legalized. Online gambling is legalized, so you could go to, say, or if you're in the state of New Jersey and make some wagers on the games they already have, like slots or poker. But it's going to take, you know, a year and a half, maybe two years to actually get all the kinks worked out. But it will be allowed to happen. So, that's why we say it's legalized. When it comes to sports gambling, New Jersey wants to be one of two, or maybe two and a half states that allow sports gambling. It's not so much the online gambling, which could come in the future, but the fact that you could go - they hope - to any casino or a racetrack and put a bet down on an NFL game. Now, a lot of the sports leagues themselves are not too happy about this. They knew this was going to be a huge legal fight, and New Jersey's already lost the first round in a federal court but they're going to keep fighting on.

MARTIN: So, is this a big deal? I mean, is sports gambling really popular in the U.S.?

PESCA: Well, yeah. It's enormously popular but it's all underground and it's almost all illegal. You know, Las Vegas allows it but we don't really have a correct handle on how much gambling's going on, which is also to say how much revenue, potential revenue the government is losing out on. We do know that throughout the world, Europe and Asia, 45 percent of all gambling is sports gambling, and sports is just as popular here - the NFL just as popular here as soccer is around the world. There's no reason to think that half of all gambling couldn't be sports gambling.

MARTIN: OK. So, you mentioned that the leagues are a little miffed at this entire idea. Really?

PESCA: Yeah. Well, I mean, the suit that was just ruled on is called NCAA vs. Christie - that's Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. And the reason that Christie wants to sign gambling and online gambling is 'cause the casino revenues have plummeted. In 2006, they were making $5 billion; now, they're making $3 billion. So, they've really gone down. They think this is a way to get a lot of money in the state and to plug the holes in the budget. But what the leagues say - they're a little vague about it, but they speak about integrity. I think they don't like - well, they don't like the whiff of gambling, they don't like even the possible perception that things are corrupt. But I'm not sure. I haven't seen a cogent argument about why legal gambling would lead to more corruption. In fact, there are occasions when the leagues have partnered with Las Vegas casinos, and the casinos have pointed out weird bets on big underdogs, and that has actually lead to investigations which show that there has been point shaving or people trying to affect games. So, in that case, legal gambling with the state involved can, you know, uncover possible corruption. So, the NCAA has - and it's not just the NCAA. You know, adjoined to the suit is the NBA and the NHL and the NFL - but the NCAA tries to punish states that allow gambling and it wields its mighty hammer to the effect that no NCAA championships were allowed to take place in New Jersey these last few months. So, yes, they pulled out the Division III men's volleyball championship and the Division II and III women's lacrosse championship. And New Jersey, I guess, is kind of looking at it, like, say, well, if this all passes, there could be hundreds of millions of dollars bet of which we'll get our cut or we'll lose the, you know, $18.50 on a lacrosse championship. Let's go for legalized gambling.

MARTIN: It all gets down to the money. OK. What's your curveball this week?

PESCA: Well, MIT hosts the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. It's where a lot of stats gurus - let's not say nerds - but, you know, math enthusiasts present papers. And some of the best, most exciting learning comes out of this conference and has for years. A trend with the papers - and I've been reading up on them following these papers - is they're utilizing the visuals. So, not just a bunch of numbers, but, say, where tennis serves go in such studies as using spacial analytics to study spacio-temporal patterns in sport. And it turns out Roger Federer clusters his serves more tightly than Andy Murray. Or - this is a great one - to crash or not to crash, a quantitative look at the relationship between offensive rebounding and transition defense in the NBA. And it turns out, for the most part - and they know this by studying the court - when you take a shot, go after it. Try to get the rebound. Don't pedal back on defense. That's not the optimal strategy.

MARTIN: Interesting. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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