Nationals

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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With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

With no access to in-game video, Trea Turner’s swing has taken time to adjust

Heading into the Nationals’ four-game series with the New York Mets this week, Trea Turner was hitting just .196 on the young season with one home run. The vaunted base stealer had been thrown out on the basepaths three times while having yet to swipe a bag successfully. In the field, he’d racked up three errors.

It was a frustrating start for the 27-year-old shortstop, who’s coming off a season in which he played with only nine fingers and still found a way to serve as a catalyst atop the Nationals’ lineup. Now fully healthy, Turner was expected to play a role in helping Washington absorb the loss of Anthony Rendon in the middle of its lineup.

Normally, poor at-bats would prompt Turner to head down to the replay room for a quick look at his mechanics. He goes into the clubhouse in between innings and examines his previous swings to see if he needs to make any adjustments. It’s a practice Turner has grown to rely on over the course of his major-league career.

But this season, Turner hasn’t had access to the replay room after MLB banned in-game video as part of its health protocols for playing in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, he’s had to wait until after each game before being able to break down his swing. It’s made for slower progress, but after going 5-for-9 with two home runs and four RBIs over the first two games of the series in New York, he feels that his adjustments have started to pay off.

“I felt good in the box and I feel like my approach was good but not having video is a little different and I feel like in years past I was pretty good at going back and just checking out the swing real quick and making the little adjustment I need to make in game,” Turner said in a Zoom press conference after Tuesday’s 2-1 win.

“Finally made the right adjustment a few games ago and started putting the barrel on the ball and feeling a little better. The last four or five games or so my contact has been a little bit stronger and it was just a matter of time for the hits to start to fall.”

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Turner hasn’t been the only member of the baseball community to express how the lack of video access has changed their approach. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that he wasn’t pleased with MLB’s decision to ban something that had become an integral tool for coaches and players during games.

“Without being too controversial, I think it's absolutely ridiculous,” Cash said. “It's probably one of the worst things that I've seen Major League Baseball do in take video away from players. Video is what makes us good. It helps us learn, it helps us coach, it helps us attack. And it's been taken away from us because of one team, or a couple teams' stupid choices.”

“We can't even watch a game; we cannot watch our own game. Our players cannot come in and watch a game in the clubhouse. It is asinine. The entire protocol system, how they came up with that, it is wrong. They're doing an injustice to players.”

While it’s unknown whether the real reasoning behind MLB’s decision is related to health protocols or the sign-stealing scandals that surrounded the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox over the offseason, Turner isn’t making any excuses. In fact, the results are beginning to turn his way.

Entering play Tuesday, Turner had a hard-hit percentage of 40.9 percent, well above his career rate of 32.5. His batting average on balls in play was just .238 (league average is .300), indicating he had been getting unlucky on some well struck balls. In fact, his groundball rate is down five percentage points from his career average while his flyball rate is up 10 percent.

Then came his home run off Mets starter Rick Porcello in the first inning. Turner took a breaking ball high and away and hit it off his back foot on a line straight into the seats in right field.

It was only Turner’s second opposite-field homer of his career after he hit none all of last season. Yet even with the adjustments he’d been making to his swing, he said that he didn’t go into the at-bat looking to hit anything to right field against Porcello.

“I think it’s just swing path and pitch,” Turner said. “I’ve hit a few balls to right-center out in certain stadiums, mostly probably at home, and I don’t know if those are opposite field per se. They might be more center field but I just think when you’re facing righties, to hit an opposite-field home run is fairly tough. He tried going toward that backdoor sinker and I just felt like it was the right swing on the right pitch and just keeping it fair and not slicing the ball.”

Turner will continue tweaking away at his swing, hoping to produce results like he has so far in the New York. But with or without the video replay room, he doesn’t expect the opposite-field homer to be the start of a new trend.

“I don’t have necessarily that oppo power some of these big guys get,” Turner said. “I usually have to pull them but every once in a while, if you get the right pitch on the right swing, it sneaks out. So I’ll take it.”

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'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

'Washington Rexes' name suggestion creates a stir on Twitter

As the Washington Football Team searches for a permanent new moniker, it's no surprise that some rather unique names have been suggested. Take the Washington UFOs or Washington Wanderers as examples.

The newest member of that group is the Washington Rexes, a name highlighted by the team as part of the fan recommendations initiative it's taking. The name was recommended by a fan named Carl, and the reasoning behind it certainly unique.

"Washington Rexes. I know this seems strange, but hear me out. Washington is home to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which houses an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the largest and most terrifying predators in history," Carl wrote. "Rexes would be an impressive nickname, implying strength, power, and ferocity. The mascot would be amazing. Plus, who doesn't love dinosaurs?" 

As wild as it may seem, Carl does kind of bring up some good points. The dinosaur is a very strong and scary animal, so it checks the intimidation box. The Smithsonian gives it the local connection and naming the stadium "Jurrasic Park" or something of that nature actually works. Wait, is Washington Rexes genuinely a good idea?

Well, for the most part, Twitter did not think so.

If dinosaurs weren't their thing, some suggested picturing it as an homage to former Washington quarterback Rex Grossman. 

Washington Rexes probably won't be the eventual name of the team. But, Carl deserves an A+ for creativity. 

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