Spanos family could be worth almost $5 billion

Fallout from Supreme Court decision

Spanos and sons. Sorry, San Diego haters of the Los Angeles Chargers.
  • Spanos and sons. Sorry, San Diego haters of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Will we see more Brandon Johnsons on college campuses, now that the Supreme Court in mid-May knocked down the 1992 federal ban on legal sports betting that had given Nevada a near monopoly on that dubious business?

Brandon Johnson playing for USD. The FBI tapped revealing phone calls between Johnson and T.J. Brown, a former USD assistant coach.

Brandon Johnson playing for USD. The FBI tapped revealing phone calls between Johnson and T.J. Brown, a former USD assistant coach.

SD Dirk, Flickr

First, who is Brandon Johnson? He is the all-time leading scorer in University of San Diego basketball history. Alas, he was sentenced to federal prison for being an accomplice in game fixing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tapped revealing phone calls between Johnson and T.J. Brown, a former USD assistant coach who went to prison for being the middleman between the bettors and players.

By knocking down the federal ban on sports gambling, the Supreme Court basically left the decision to states. In California, a move would require a constitutional amendment, and one was submitted last year in anticipation of the high court’s decision. One assemblyman wants a vote on the topic in November, but others think the matter won’t be settled for a couple of years. Indian casinos may well get the business, but card rooms and live horse-racing tracks might want in on the action.

It’s difficult, then, to know the social effects since all the states (not including Utah) are likely to jump at the chance. Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a research firm, estimates that if the states go all-out (unfettered restriction) into sports gambling, annual revenues could hit $16 billion. If the betting is restricted, the total would be about $7.4 billion. The number of sports gamblers could hit 44 million under the gung-ho scenario. Therefore, tax collectors are drooling.

And now to Brandon Johnson and his ilk. Even if the Eilers & Krejcik forecasts are optimistic, there is general agreement that the total amount of sports gambling will go up. This “may give rise to more match fixing in the aggregate, even if the proportion of match fixing incidents decreases,” says Jimmy McEntee of globalanticorruptionblog.com. Now, much of the sports gambling is through bookies and over the internet. “By taking gambling out of the black market and into the light, regulators may be better able to monitor and track gambling activity, and to identify irregularities that suggest possible corruption.” After all, there is an incentive for legal sports betting to be free of corruption. A sports bookmaker can be hurt financially by game fixing.

Who are the winners from the court’s decision? New Jersey, the plaintiff in the suit, is ready to go. So are a few other states. The big winners will be professional sports teams, most of whom were publicly opposed to gambling but secretly hoping to see it legalized. The National Football League, in particular, is the biggest hypocrite of all. It was founded by gamblers and gangsters in 1920, and high rollers dominated ownership until a few years ago. Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association, claims the value of pro sports teams could double overnight. (Sorry, San Diego haters of the Los Angeles Chargers: the Spanos family, worth $2.4 billion as of May of this year, according to Forbes, would be worth almost $5 billion if Cuban is right.) Even though Cuban is known for hyperbole, there is no question that the value of pro sports teams will soar. Pro football, for example, despite its antigambling piety, has a lucrative symbiotic relationship with gambling. It’s logical: 84 percent of adults say they are more likely to watch a game if they have money riding on it. The crypto-gambling fantasy football darlings, DraftKings and FanDuel, dance cheek-to-cheek with the league.

ESPN notes that other winners from the court’s decision are companies that provide sports data (critical to setting bet spreads and the like), Twitter, app developers, makers of mobile devices, racetracks with other forms of gambling, and the aforementioned DraftKings and FanDuel. The New York Times points out that “the appetite for sports consumption both online and on traditional television will surely rise.” Now, the sports TV industry is struggling, as competition from streaming services, video games, social networks, and mobile phones takes bite.

There will be some losers. Illegal bookies will no doubt lose business, but they won’t fail, because they offer credit to some customers and don’t report betting payoffs to tax authorities. Online sports books working through offshore havens may get hit, although the secrecy they offer is enticing to many. ESPN suggests that savvy bettors may suffer, because the cost of regulation will be high, and those costs may be recovered by lowering payouts.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has always opposed legal gambling. If game throwing increases, as is likely, the NCAA’s monitoring duties may expand. Student athletes, who aren’t paid (supposedly) may demand some kind of emoluments, as they did at Northwestern University not long ago.

Legalized sports gambling will increase hanky-panky. You can expect to see fake news. There will almost certainly be false reports of player injuries on social media. Phony scouts will offer their services to gamblers. Crooks will try to use electronic speed to place a bet on an outcome that has already happened. (If that occurs, pro sports will return to mobster-manipulated days. Arthur “Mickey” McBride was the first owner of the Cleveland Browns. He was head of the Continental Racing Wire. The goal was to permit some sharpies to bet on a horse race that was over.)

Finally, legal sports betting is only around 5 percent of the wagering in Nevada. While casinos throughout the U.S. will want the business, sports gambling is still a small fry, even though Americans illegally plunk $150 billion (probably more) into it every year. Casinos make 4 to 5 percent a year, or slightly more, on sports gambling, according to the University of Nevada Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research. That’s better than they make on blackjack (2 percent from an average player), but less than they make on dollar slot machines (6 percent) and quarter slots (8 percent) on average players.

So should you run out and bet $1000 on San Diego State to beat Southern California in football? Whether you vote the spread or simply which team will win (called “Moneyline,” which is expensive), if you collect on 52.4 percent of your bets, you only break even. Enjoy the game, but sit on your wallet.

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Here’s my thought on sports bettors, especially those who think they have insights into the business end of sports: “a fool and his money are soon parted.” So many foolish fans believe owners are here for them and not themselves. The Spanos family is just one example. All they left San Diego with was debt after wringing out as much as they possibly could. Now-a-days their newest victims will be in Los Angeles while San Diegans keep paying off those Stadium Bonds.

JustWondering: I agree with you. Sports betting is foolish. Vegas and the bookies try to lure in people who vote their emotions, not their intellect. They will bet on their alma mater, for example. That is often a mistake.

And remember: Insiders know more than you do. The owners are big bettors, despite the claim the league doesn't have anything to do with gambling. The gambler/owners know more about the team than you do. Best, Don Bauder

And it is a short step for an owner to affect the outcome. I know they have to be careful, very careful, but some coaching moves can affect the score. Go for a TD and come up short, or take a sure-thing field goal? That sort of thing can, in aggregate, be used to advantage over a season.

Visduh: The famous case was that title game in which the Colts beat the Giants. It is said to be the game that made the NFL a TV favorite. The Colts kept driving very late in the game. They could have easily won it with a field goal. But they had Ameche plunge over for a touchdown. The Colts' owner was a notorious gambler and all-around crook. Savvy people say he told the team not to take the field goal because he would not have beaten the spread. Best, Don Bauder

well, the payers and refs. are employees of the owners, so doing what they are told ( fix the outcome) would not be technically illegal. ( doing what their employer directs them to do)

Murphyjunk: Nothing happened to Unitas, the Colts quarterback, or Ameche, the running back, or the owner, the crook.

But an NBA ref went to prison a few years back for fixing games. I don't remember whether he was taking instructions from an owner. Even if he had, what he did was illegal. If I were told to do something blatantly illegal by a boss, I would go to the slammer if I did it. Best, Don Bauder

I found this line interesting on the subject from a blog on the net .

"Judges ruled that fixing a game for entertainment purposes was completely LEGAL. "

Murphyjunk: Maybe that was a case about the Harlem Globetrotters, who always won (except once). Best, Don Bauder

It's amazing to me that the Spanos family is worth $2.4 billion, and almost all of it consists of the Carson Chargers, at $2.275 billion.

aardvark: Yes, I have marveled at that, and written about it. Almost all of the Forbes estimate of the family's wealth is based on the valuation of the Chargers. Alex Spanos had a very successful construction business. It is privately held, and numbers aren't available, but the family may have taken a bath on that in the 2007-2009 crash. Best, Don Bauder

It's amazing how the Chargers are promoting themselves to the LA market, notably on KFI which carries their games. They are saying that the fans need to enjoy StubHub while they can, before the team moves to the new palacio in Inglewood. Why? Oh, StubHub is more "intimate" and the stands are closer to the action. Superficially, at least, the club seems to be doing about as well in LA as could be hoped for. They had a good season, and they claim to be filling the seats (all 27,000 of them.) Will the Spanos gang finally sell the team? We've all speculated about that for a long time, and wondered if the family could manage to make the franchise worth much more. Both could happen.

Allegedly, StubHub Center seats 30,000, but the Chargers still claim 27,000 is the capacity of the venue. But the Chargers have admitted covering 3,000 seats with fancy tarps, while waiting to see if demand is there to sell those other 3,000 seats. Apparently, that demand has not yet materialized, as the Chargers averaged 25,335 per game there last season, according to attendance numbers supplied by ESPN.

aardvark: That is good information. If the Chargers could only draw 25,000 per game at Stub Hub, what will happen when they occupy the brand new stadium? Since the owner of the. Rams does not like or respect Spanos, there may be pressure for the family to sell at an outrageous price, such as $5 billion. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Yes, billionaires are paying ridiculous prices for pro sports franchises. Who knows what the Spanos family could get for the Chargers? Best, Don Bauder

There is no group of people more stupid than sport fans.

danfogel: Yes, but San Diego voters were very smart to tell the subsidy-seeking Chargers to beat it out of town. (However, as I have pointed out many times, that outcome was very much desired by the Chargers, and Fabiani and Dean Spanos helped guarantee it by deliberately making asses of themselves prior to the vote.)

Now the Spanos family may be worth close to $5 billion because of that vote. But it is clear that the Chargers are not accepted in L.A. So what happens when they occupy the new stadium? Best, Don Bauder

AlexClarke: I could think of some, but I better not mention them. Best, Don Bauder

Rich Gibson: Yes, in a casino economy such as we have, sports gambling and game fixing are sure to rise. Best, Don Bauder

Meanwhile Europe, Africa and Latin America are re-discovering the stink of sports corruption. Each time they seem surprised!

swell: Soccer is about a corrupt a sport as there is. A big FIFA tournament is coming up. FIFA is a corruption sewer. Best, Don Bauder

Even the Olympics are suspect now- especially since they included professional athletes.

That the Olympics are corrupt is nothing new. Between doped-up athletes and spending billions on facilities that might be finished when the games are held, only to be used once and then allowed to deteriorate while much of the local populace continues to live in squalor (looking at you, Rio de Janiero), the race is on between FIFA and the Olympics every four years to see who can set the corruption bar higher (lower?).

aardvark: Yours is an apt description. You'll find some columns I have written for the Reader on the Olympics scam. Best, Don Bauder

swell: Absoutely. Countries pay huge bribes to host a winter or summer Olympics. That's despite the fact that Olympics are almost always big money drains. Best, Don Bauder

The only Spanos with any business sense was the founder Patriarch Alex...The sons and grandsons appear to be complete duds living off NFL subsidies, shared TV revenues and the inflated value of the Charges as a result of limited supply and the NFL's multi billion dollar shared TV contract.

Just a decent ownership group would have insisted on hiring a top notch coach during the Bobby Beatherd (sp) Era.

Charges had what 10-13 Pro Bowlers for a few years until they all began to bolt for greener pastures?! Norv Turner was widely known in the league as a competent coordinator who was not head coaching material.

And how many assistant coaches of the Chargers bolted to be Head Coaches elsewhere?!?! like Sean Peyton Saints--won Superbowl and Ron Rivera Carolina made a Super Bowl...

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