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AT a time when Massachusetts is struggling desperately to find revenue sources, state Rep. William Galvin (D-Boston) has succeeded in locating as much as $50 million that would come not from new taxes or reductions in current programs, but largely from the coffers of organized crime.
Seizing upon a plan already approved by the state of Oregon. Galvin is backing a scheme to institute a government-sponsored football wagering system, which would be run by the state Lottery Commission.
Under the Oregon plan, which is scheduled to begin in September, the state will sell wagering cards identical to the ones that now are widely sold illegally.
For one dollar, the bettor will try to pick the winners in four to 14 of that week's games. One wrong guess loses the wager, but if bettors choose the winners in all the games, they can win between $8 and $5000, depending on how many games they gamble on.
Despite the knee-jerk response of some sports purists against any association between professional athletics and gambling. Galvin's plan deserves to be implemented in Massachusetts. Not only will it offer the state additional income with no pain attached, but it also will take a sizeable bite out of the illegal profits garnered by organized crime through gambling operations.
THE most compelling objection raised by critics of state lotteries is their regressive nature. Poor people spend a larger percentage of their income on lotteries, partly in the hope of striking it rich and climbing out of their desperate situations.
A state-sponsored football wagering system, however, would not change greatly the economic standing of the poor. Many poor people, and wealthier people, already use betting cards to gamble illegally on football games, and Galvin has estimated that football betting makes up 75 percent of all illegal sports gambling.
Instituting such a program would simply allow Massachusetts to take the money that currently ends up in the hands of organized crime, which supports most of the illegal gambling around the country. This money could be spent on services like education and health care for the poor.
Experts have estimated that Oregon will take in gross revenues each year of approximately $50 million from its wagering system. With a professional team and a larger population, some predict that Massachusetts would triple Oregon's gross revenues. After funding the administration of the lottery, the state would retain about $50 million for its own treasury.
After legislating the largest tax hike in 10 years and facing the possible loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in local aid to cities and towns, the Bay State cannot afford to ignore Galvin's plan. This is especially true because start-up costs would be so low: lottery officials say their computers are already geared to this type of betting.
THE Bay State betting plan is in the very earliest planning stages right now, but a loud voice of protest has been raised already by that bastion of pure, untampered athleticism, the National Football League.
The NFL has a long history of public opposition to betting on games, and its commissioner, Pete Rozelle, sent a letter to the Oregon governor, stating his objections to that state's gambling plan. Jim Heffernan, the league's spokesperson, says that it would not be surprising if the NFL took similar actions if Massachusetts appeared close to adopting a state-wide betting scheme.
Galvin, the chair of the House's Government Regulations Committee, refuses to accept the NFL's line, pointing to the fact that the league releases daily injury reports--which are valuable tools for handicappers, as well as opposing scouts. And the league never complains when pre-game shows and newspapers announce the point spreads for its games, Galvin notes.
Heffernan has disputed those claims, saying that the NFL has no right to censor newspapers or television shows.
But the NFL's desires, hypocritical or not, should be irrelevant to the Legislature's deliberations. The league has no power to prevent the state from implementing the plan, and state representatives, when they return from recess in the fall, should see the plan for what it is: a sensible attempt both to raise money and to reduce the income of organized crime.
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