Saturday, September 16, 2006

UI Football Promoting Gambling?

Is the University of Iowa Athletic Department, specifically the football program, promoting gambling?

There is very little ambiguity regarding the NCAA's rules regarding gambling on college sports. The NCAA Division I Manual provides:


Staff members of a member conference, staff members of the athletics department of a member institution and student-athletes shall not knowingly: (Revised: 4/22/98 effective 8/1/98)

( a ) Provide information to individuals involved in organized gambling activities concerning intercollegiate athletics competition;
( b ) Solicit a bet on any intercollegiate team;
( c ) Accept a bet on any team representing the institution;
( d ) Solicit or accept a bet on any intercollegiate competition for any item (e.g., cash, shirt, dinner) that has tangible value; or (Revised: 9/15/97)
( e ) Participate in any gambling activity that involves intercollegiate athletics or professional athletics, through a bookmaker, a parlay card or any other method employed by organized gambling. (Revised: 1/9/96, 1/14/97 effective 8/1/97)

NCAA Division I Manual, Bylaw Article 10, Ethical Conduct, 10.3 (2001-02).


It couldn't be much clearer, could it? Academic institutions are able to claim that they want to maintain an impenetrable wall between their athletic programs, staff and student athletes, on the one hand, and the temptations of sports gambling on the other.

Of course, these standards do not address, nor could they, gambling on sports by those unaffiliated with a university. (And I am not claiming that the Universty's getting in bed with gambling interests, and taking the gambling industry's money, is "the same as" coaches and athletes betting on games.)

But it does seem a bit incongruous for the University's athletic program to enter into what amounts to a partnership with the gambling industry. How has it done that?

The University has (1) sold special indoor box facilities in the football stadium to a local gambling casino, aware that the casino purchased the facility to entertain, and encourage, high rollers, (2) knowing that the casino plans to bring gamblers into the state, put them up at its hotel, transport them to and from the football games, and (3) then agreed to let the casino use the football program's oversized electronic scoreboard to advertise the gambling casino to the 70,000 plus sports fans in attendance! (4) Removing any possible ambiguity about this, the Casino Web site's opening page currently displays, "Turn a Hawkeye game day into a weekend getaway!"

See William Petroski, "E. Iowa Casino to Lure U of I Fans; It will offer post-game parties, stadium shuttles," Des Moines Register, August 29, 2006 ("The casino has spent $165,000 for a three-year deal to lease a new skybox at Kinnick Stadium, and the casino has purchased dozens of football tickets for its preferred customers. Starting with the Iowa-Iowa State game on Sept. 16, charter buses will be offered to transport patrons between the casino parking lot and Kinnick Stadium, and there will be post-game parties at the Riverside complex."), and William Petroski, "Kinnick ‘Hotel’ ad omits 'Casino;' By design, an ad for Riverside's complex does not mention gambling," Des Moines Register, September 8, 2006 ("Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl pointed out in a recent interview that . . . many students already gamble online.").

The duplicity is stunning. Apparently the University, recognizing the impropriety of what it was doing, but wanting the money from the gambling industry advertising anyway, decided everything would be OK if only it would falsely represent that no gambling actually takes place in a gambling casino by changing the name on its scoreboard from the gambling casino's real name -- the "Riverside Casino & Golf Resort" -- to that of a non-existant facility called the "Riverside Hotel & Golf Resort."

While I suspect that few of the 70,000 fans were led to believe that the Casino had truly decided to abandon gambling income for total dependence on its hotel business, there may well have been a few who found the name switch a little bizarre and baffling.

Not only does a university's promoting gambling to the young students in its charge violate basic principles of common sense and decency, it also violates the spirit of the law (which forbids anyone under the age of 21 to enter a gambling casino), and the spirit of the NCAA rules.

(Another incongruity is that while the University forbids consumption of alcohol in the stadium and some tailgating areas, a special dispensation to drink is granted to the Casino's stadium gamblers, as well as the guests of other purchasers of the $50,000-plus-a-year indoor skyboxes. There's no telling what lesson that provides the students in the stands and the athletes on the field.)

The University is certainly in no position to feign ignorance and innocence. As early as May 2006 the campus paper reported,

"[Riverside Casino Manager Joe] Massa has hired a sales manager to lure groups and conventions to the casino, and he plans to hire a sales staff in Chicago and Des Moines. A package could include a hotel stay with a trip to Kinnick Stadium for tailgating and box seats at an Iowa football game. Kehl says he wants to organize junkets to the casino, where out-of-state gamblers would be flown into the Eastern Iowa Airport."

Elaine Watkins-Miller, "If they build it, will they come?," Master's Media Project/Riverside Project, The Daily Iowan, May 5, 2006.

What has the University had to say about all of this?

"University of Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Tuesday that the university would not place restrictions on a Riverside casino that has rented a Kinnick Stadium skybox with plans to bring big gamblers to Hawkeye football games.

“'We have never placed any restrictions on a company which owns tickets, how they use them secondarily,' Barta said. 'Once they are sold to a company, it is that individual’s or that company’s discretion how they use them.'

"The new $140 million casino at Riverside is placing a special marketing emphasis on Hawkeye football games. The casino, located 12 miles south of Iowa City, has spent $165,000 for a three-year lease on a skybox at Kinnick Stadium. The casino has also purchased dozens of Hawkeye football tickets for its preferred guests.

"Iowa has 19 casinos, but the opening of the Riverside complex Thursday at 9 p.m. marks the first time a casino has been so close to one of Iowa’s three state universities.

"Barta said the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U of I are 'very concerned about possible ill effects as they relate to gambling and intercollegiate athletics.'

"He added, 'On the other hand, the various casinos in this state, they are legal businesses. So you walk that fine line between your concern about gambling and its association with intercollegiate athletics and what you know has been understood as a legal entity in this state.'"

Randy Peterson, "High-Level, High-Dollar, High Ol' Times," Des Moines Register, August 30, 2006 ("Casino's Football Skybox is OK With U of I").

The Hawkeyes won the game today, and a good one it was. And they've made a lot of money from the gambling industry.

But in the process they've certainly fallen far from the educational and moral high ground to which they profess to aspire.

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Anonymous said...

What do you think the UI administration would do if the Federal government offered to pay them $500 million per year to use Kinnick Stadium as a radioactive waste depository?

Nick said...


They'd take it in a heartbeat -- after building a new stadium well out of town, as the $93 million should have been invested this time.

I once inquired on behalf of Larry Flynt (without his authorization) whether $100 million would be enough to have the name of the Univesity changed to either the "Hustler University of Iowa" or the "Larry Flynt University of Iowa."

The idea was received as a serious possibility rather than being rejected out of hand.

But your example only puts the choice between greed and the University's (and broader) community's health -- kind of like awarding Coke the monopoly franchise for campus-wide softdrink sales (with monopoly prices to match).

Other issues are involved (some would say more serious, others would say the opposite) -- in addition to mere greed uber alles -- when college athletics goes into partnership with the gambling industry.

-- Nick

Nick said...

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