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Column: New Jersey betting should be a sure thing

Column: New Jersey betting should be a sure thing

LAS VEGAS (AP) The bookies in this gambling city are grumbling a bit, which is always good news for those inclined to wager a few bucks on their favorite NFL team. Profits are down this season, thanks to some top teams that fans couldn't stop putting money on.

Nothing particularly innovative about their winning strategy. Not with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers covering the spread almost every time they took the field the last half of the season.

``It's easy to pick teams that are doing good,'' said Jimmy Vaccaro, a longtime oddsmaker who has seen just about every trend - except a losing year for bookies - in 38 years behind the betting counter.

No reason to worry. The playoffs will surely be money makers, and Monday night's BCS game with a dream betting matchup of Notre Dame and Alabama could draw the most money ever bet on a college game.

Football fans love to gamble, and they've been doing it in this city's legal sports books for decades now. Millions of dollars change hands every NFL weekend between gamblers who think they know more than oddsmakers and the bookies who usually do know more than the people handing them money.

But what happens in Vegas doesn't just stay in Vegas. The lines are made here, but it's not hard to find illegal bookies in most major cities who will offer the same bets.

Add in the online sports books and the money wagered on an NFL season is generally measured in the billions, not millions. Huge sums ride on every pass, every call and every missed tackle.

Yet somehow the integrity of the NFL remains intact. There's not a whiff of scandal, not a reason to suspect anything might be amiss.

That's what makes the reaction of America's biggest sports leagues to attempts to legalize sports betting in New Jersey so laughable.

From the NFL to the NBA, they're united against efforts by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to sidestep a federal ban and allow wagering on games. The NCAA has joined the fight in a federal court in Newark, and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig seems to take it as a personal affront.

``I have to say to you I'm appalled,'' Selig said in a deposition filed in the case. ``I'm really appalled.''

It's hardly surprising that the leagues are lined up against sports betting, mostly because their thought process is so rooted in the past. They see gambling on their games as a threat cooked up in a back room somewhere by shady criminals just waiting for the chance to blackmail a troubled quarterback and fix the outcome of games.

Somehow, though, London - which has at least one betting parlor on every major street - managed to hold an entire Olympics without any problems, while offering bets on everything from Usain Bolt winning the 100 to Michael Phelps getting seven golds. The NFL, meanwhile, hosts a game in London every year and hasn't complained yet about fans being able to bet their favorite on their way to the stadium.

There's nothing more immoral about it than betting on the stock market. Nothing more criminal than cashing in on your fantasy league's pot of cash.

The reality is that people want to bet on games and will do so whether it's legal or not. And if there is ever an attempt to fix a game, it's going to be discovered first by the legal bookies in this city that track every dollar on every game and know before anyone that something fishy is going on.

``It defies common sense that somehow the leagues are better off and the world is a better place where hundreds of billions are being wagered illegally,'' said Joe Asher, who runs United States operations for the British betting house William Hill. ``The idea that it is of benefit to a league when their fans are wagering with criminals rather than having a system where sports betting is regulated and run by honorable people who have undergone thorough investigations is ridiculous.''

Don't tell that to NBA Commissioner David Stern, who seemed nearly apoplectic when asked in his deposition on how legal betting in New Jersey could hurt his league.

``The one thing I'm certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it's doing and doesn't care because all it's interested in is making a buck or two, and they don't care that it's at our potential loss,'' Stern said.

Just what that loss would be is hard to understand. If anything, major sports leagues - the NFL in particular - have benefited from legal sports betting, with the betting line always a prominent part of any discussion leading up to a big game. It's part of the fabric of big-time sports, and without it we'd never know that Alabama is a 9.5-point favorite over Notre Dame in the BCS game.

Still, allowing legal betting in New Jersey would be a game changer. It would give millions of fans easy access to the betting counter in an area of the country where the passion for sports runs deep and remove much of the stigma still attached to an industry that grew up on the fringe of respectability.

It will also make some people a lot of money. Legal sports book operators would surely profit, as would New Jersey in the taxes it collects on the bets.

About the only ones who won't make money are the leagues themselves, at least not directly. Unlike almost everything else they're involved with, they won't get a cut of the action.

That means millions - and potentially billions - of dollars going into someone else's pockets.

And maybe that's the real reason why they protest so loud.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.