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California could become America’s sports betting capital

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Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court removed legal barriers to sports betting, California voters could be asked in November to join 14 other states in allowing legal wagers on athletic contests, creating a lucrative industry worth billions of dollars and intense competition among rival gambling interests in the state.

On Tuesday, a coalition of 18 Native American tribes was given approval to begin circulating petitions for a statewide ballot initiative that would allow sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks, but not at rival card clubs or on the internet.

“This is an important step in helping ensure sports wagering is restricted to adults over 21 at highly regulated and experienced locations,” said Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which operates a casino in Temecula. “The measure will also result in new revenue for mental health programs and vital services like public safety and education.”

Card clubs vowed to campaign against the tribal casino proposal and instead support another ballot measure being considered by the California Legislature that would apply to a larger group of gambling interests.

California voters have given their blessing to legalized gambling three times — first through the creation of a statewide lottery in 1984, then by authorizing tribal casino operations with ballot measures approved in 1998 and 2000.

The stakes are high both for the state and companies that might be licensed to offer sports betting, said Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), a leading proponent for legalized sports betting and chairman of the powerful Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.

A legal sports betting market could bring in $2.5 billion in gross revenue annually in California, the largest market in the country, according to Chris Grove, a managing director for Eilers and Krejcik Gambling LLC, a research and consulting firm that has provided estimates to California lawmakers.

The market could generate $250 million to $500 million in tax revenue for the state based on whether the tax rate is 10% or 20%, Gray said.

“It is clear that we are quickly heading in the direction of a well-thought-out, legal sports betting framework here in California,” Gray said at a hearing earlier this month. “We need to create this framework to ensure regulatory oversight and provide consumer protections to get this long-standing and emerging activity out of the shadows of the illicit or black market.”

A national wave of new gambling laws was triggered by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal prohibition on sports wagering. Betting on football, baseball and other sports is allowed in 14 states, including Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In response to the court decision, Gray and state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) have each introduced legislation that would put a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot as early as November to allow sports betting. To make the ballot, lawmakers have until late June to overcome the divisions in the state gambling industry over how to allow sports betting, and groups such as professional sports leagues and law enforcement are already weighing in.

California is home to the most professional sports teams in the nation, including four National Basketball Assn. teams and three National Football League franchises, as well as powerhouse university teams from UCLA and USC. Lawyers for the National Basketball Assn. and Major League Baseball have told lawmakers that they are supportive of the concept of a constitutional amendment, but want to make sure any new system protects consumers and the integrity of the games.

“Our view is that sports betting properly regulated can have benefits to bring betting out of the shadows and into the sunlight, to give us tools to allow us to monitor betting on our games and to protect the fans who bet on sports,” said Dan Spillane, senior vice president and assistant general counsel for the NBA at this month’s hearing at the state Capitol.

Pro league representatives said any system should include consumer protections, including the vetting of operators, age restrictions, gambling addiction programs and requirements that the sports leagues are the sources of data used to set odds and settle bets.

California’s system should also seek to allow betting over the internet and smartphones using state-licensed sites so the legal system can compete and reduce the black market, league officials say.

Because Major League Baseball has five teams in California, the most of any state, “it’s really important that California get it right, particularly because this will be the largest betting market in the country and it will be a state that other states look to,” Brian Seeley, a senior league vice president and deputy general counsel for Major League Baseball, told lawmakers this month.

Online gambling can also be lucrative for a state. New Jersey saw some $2.9 billion in sports bets at retail and online sportsbooks in the first year after it began allowing the wagering in June 2018, with 81% of the money wagered online, Grove said.

“It’s clear that if we truly want to take illegal sports betting out of the shadows, there needs to be an online component for those who won’t patronize brick-and-mortar outlets,” Dodd said. “Without that, it will remain largely unregulated, continue to pose the risk of fraud and fail to generate funds for education or help with problem gambling.”

Tribal leaders dispute that mobile betting should be allowed and their initiative would only allow betting at racetracks and at casinos, where patrons might be more likely to participate in other gambling activities as well.

Security and privacy issues have also been cited by opponents of mobile betting.

“Voters have very real and serious concerns about mobile sports betting and would be highly likely to oppose a measure that allows online betting,” said Jacob Mejia, a spokesman for the coalition of tribal casino operators, who added that the tribes don’t rule out allowing online betting in the future.

Legal experts say federal law regarding Native American tribes may be an obstacle to offering internet betting. The proposed initiative would also expand tribal-state compact powers to allow craps and roulette at tribal casinos.

The tribes’ initiative, which would put a 10% tax on gross gaming revenues derived from sports wagering, has a good chance of qualifying for the ballot given the deep pockets of tribal casino operators, who must collect valid signatures from 997,139 registered voters.

The tribes spent $33 million in 2004 to defeat a ballot measure that would have allowed racetracks and card clubs to operate slot machines.

Tribes and their lobbyists also have influence in the legislative process, having cultivated close relationships with lawmakers. Five of the biggest tribal donors pushing the initiative spent a total of $2.1 million on political contributions last year as well as $1.1 million on lobbying state government. On Thursday, several tribes co-hosted an annual party welcoming lawmakers back to Sacramento for the legislative year, offering cocktails, gourmet food and a live show by rapper Lil Jon.

The more than 50 non-tribal card clubs represented by the California Gaming Assn. are already gearing up to fight the tribal initiative and weigh in with legislators on the ballot measures proposed by Gray and Dodd, said the association’s president, Kyle Kirkland.

The initiative “gives the sports wagering just to the tribes with no real benefit for California,” Kirkland said, noting that mobile betting would allow residents in cities such as Los Angeles that do not have tribal casinos the ability to gamble without driving long distances.

Florida-based gambling industry attorney Daniel Wallach also has advised lawmakers that they should allow sports betting at sports venues such as Staples Center, home to the Lakers and Clippers basketball teams, if they want the most robust legal market possible.

“You take the activity to where the action is,” Wallach said.

He said he is convinced that the Legislature can legalize sports betting in California without going to the voters to change the state Constitution, but legal experts with the Legislature believe a ballot measure is required.

It will take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot, and some lawmakers at this month’s first public hearing had concerns and questions about the various proposals. Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a former sheriff’s captain, said he had “a bit of trepidation” about the promise of riches for the state treasury, noting that revenue projections from the legal cannabis industry and lottery have also fallen short of predictions.

The proposals are opposed by the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, which is especially concerned about allowing online bets.

“It basically puts a casino in the pocket of every youth potentially and every gambling addict,” said Fred Jones, the group’s attorney. “They don’t have to go anywhere. They have got it right there in their smartphone.”

Dodd, who is chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, argued the state and its residents are missing out by keeping betting illegal.

“Though sports betting remains illegal in our state, the fact remains that Californians have and will continue to wager billions of dollars every single year on their favorite sport,” Dodd said. “I for one believe we must bring sports betting out of the shadows in a manner that provides the best deal for the state of California and provides maximum protections for our constituents.”



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Kobe Bryant’s Public Memorial Service Is Today

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LOS ANGELES — For the bulk of his career with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant turned Staples Center into his stage, fashioning basketball into performance art. He soared and scowled, endearing himself to fans who celebrated his competitive drive. It is not often that an athlete becomes synonymous with an arena, but Staples Center seemed to belong to Bryant in a singular way.

“He helped build this arena,” said Lee Zeidman, the president of Staples Center since it opened in 1999.

In the wake of Bryant’s death last month, there was some discussion among family members, including his wife, Vanessa, and city officials about the site of a public memorial service, Zeidman said. An outdoor venue like the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum or Dodger Stadium would have been able to accommodate the most people.

“A lot of people were weighing in,” Zeidman said in an interview last week. “But for the men and women who work at Staples Center, we felt that this was the place to do it. He put five championship banners on the walls here. Both of his numbers are retired here. And we’re very proud and humbled that Vanessa chose to do it here.”

But Bryant had a unique relationship with Staples Center as the arena’s most magnetic draw for 17 consecutive years — and he formed ties to many who still work there.

Andy Bernstein, the longtime photographer for the Lakers who collaborated with Bryant on Bryant’s 2018 book, “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” was invited to attend Monday’s event as a guest. But Bernstein declined so he could work at the event in his usual role, as a photographer. It was what Bryant would have wanted him to do, he said.

“Part of the ‘Mamba mentality’ was strength,” Bernstein said in a telephone interview. “The strength to overcome. The strength to get through stuff. I think about Kobe and what he would be saying in this moment. He would be saying, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.’”

Entering the weekend, Zeidman said the list of invited guests, speakers and performers was still “very fluid.” The Lakers and the Bryant family were coordinating the program, Zeidman said, and few details had been disclosed. Zeidman said he was not privy to many of them.

“There’s been virtually no information outside of instructions to save all of our dressing rooms,” he said.

A number of celebrities and athletes are expected to be on hand, including members of the Lakers and the Clippers, and former N.B.A. stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s career leading scorer. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks are among the current players who have said they will attend, along with Luke Walton, a Lakers teammate of Bryant’s who now coaches the Sacramento Kings.

Sabrina Ionescu, a guard for the University of Oregon women’s basketball team, told the Pac-12 Network that she was among those who had been invited to speak. Ionescu had grown close to Bryant, a vocal advocate for women’s sports in recent years, and to Gianna, who had dreamed of playing in the W.N.B.A.

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Coronavirus Spreads to Soccer’s Schedule, Closing Stadiums and Stranding Teams

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In China, officials struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus have delayed the start of the soccer season for months, and at least one top-division team has been marooned in the Middle East for weeks, unable to return from a preseason training camp.

In South Korea, fans attending matches earlier this month were checked for fever before being allowed inside stadiums, and masks were ubiquitous in the stands in Japan recently — until Tuesday, when officials announced that there will be no league play until at least mid-March.

But the effects of the coronavirus on the global soccer calendar have crossed borders, too. Asia’s soccer confederation announced three weeks ago that the matches in its biggest club championship involving Chinese teams would not be played for several months, and Vietnam has banned the hosting of sporting events of any kind this month, forcing even more games to be rescheduled.

Now the disruption has spread to Europe.

In Italy, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases neared 300 on Tuesday, at least one game — the second leg of a knockout tie on Thursday between Internazionale of Milan and Ludogorets of Bulgaria in the Europa League — is to be played behind closed doors as the authorities continue to restrict public gatherings in the northern region of Lombardy.

The decision on Tuesday to play the game without spectators came after the Italian authorities postponed four league games last weekend.

Inter Milan, a top contender for the Italian league title, said the decision was a result of several days of talks with health officials in Lombardy and European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, over how to stage the game, which could not be canceled because of the lack of alternate dates.

The game against Ludogorets is believed to be the first time a European soccer match has had to be played behind closed doors because of a health crisis. Usually such conditions are imposed on teams as a punishment for fan violence or racist episodes.

Inter, which is owned by a Chinese company, had already been taking steps to minimize the risks to its staff members from the virus. Nonessential employees have been told to work from home, and the club has purchased stocks of face masks and hand sanitizer for the team’s headquarters.

The decision to go ahead with Thursday’s match at Milan’s cavernous San Siro stadium was confirmed on Tuesday. Inter, which has an even bigger game on Sunday, when it is scheduled to visit first-place Juventus, was one of the four Italian clubs that postponed a match in the country’s top league last weekend.

Other European countries are now contemplating similar possibilities. On Tuesday, the French club Olympique Lyonnais said in a statement that it had “taken note” of the French authorities’ decision to let its match against Juventus in the Champions League proceed “in its initial configuration” on Wednesday night. Up to 3,000 fans of Juventus, a team based in the northern Italian city of Turin, are expected for the game, which is sold out.

Asked about the match, Olivier Véran, France’s health minister, told RTL radio that the authorities were being vigilant but that there were currently “no scientific and medical arguments” justifying the cancellation of large events in France.

“Should we stop Fashion Week?” Véran said. “Should we stop games? Should we close universities? The answer is no.”

He added, “We are not closing the borders because we do not know how to, but because it would make no sense at this stage.”

Health officials and governments in Asia, where sports schedules have been most affected since the virus first started to spread, are facing a far different reality.

When Afshin Ghotbi, the Iranian-American coach of the Chinese team Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, was thrown into the air by his soccer players in early November after clinching promotion to the Chinese Super League, he had no inkling that almost four months later, he and his squad would still be waiting for the new season to begin.

Shijiazhuang Ever Bright, whose home city of 11 million is about 165 miles southwest of Beijing, should have kicked off its new campaign last weekend. But instead of taking on Chinese superclubs like Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG in front of 40,000 fans, Ghotbi’s team is playing preseason games in empty stadiums in Abu Dhabi, its base for five weeks and counting.

Team officials said that they did not expect to play competitive soccer until at least May or even be allowed to return to China before mid-March.

“It is a challenge for the players,” Ghotbi said. “They are away from their families and psychologically they feel very helpless.”

Ghotbi, a former head coach of Iran’s national team, has experience in global events disrupting sports schedules. He was in charge of the Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse in 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami caused the Japanese league’s season to be delayed for six weeks.

“Back then, we also tried to use the football team as a source of inspiration and hope,” Ghotbi said. “And we are trying to do the same now through banners in the stadiums we play and through social media, though it is different as we are outside China.”

To keep his players sharp physically and mentally, he and his coaches have created a points system for intrateam activities, among other distractions. “Even changing the hotel can make a difference,” he said.

Similar challenges are now being faced across East Asia. South Korea, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases neared 1,000 on Tuesday, postponed the start of its domestic season indefinitely on Monday. The next day, Japan’s J. League announced a delay of three weeks.

Individual qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics have already been moved; in one extreme example, the China women’s soccer team was quarantined inside an Australian hotel, forced to exercise and train in hallways, before it was allowed to play a series of Olympic qualifying games.



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Shannon Sharpe is excited to see Zion vs LeBron faceoff tonight | NBA | UNDISPUTED

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Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe look ahead to New Orleans Pelicans vs Los Angeles Lakers tonight. Hear why Skip and Shannon are excited for the matchup between LeBron James and Zion Williamson.

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Shannon Sharpe is excited to see Zion vs LeBron faceoff tonight | NBA | UNDISPUTED

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