Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gambling Options for Texans: Introduction

As we all know, Texas is steadfastly refusing to expand authorized gaming beyond the current poorly ran Horse/Dog Racing program, and the legalized tax on those with low math skills that is the Texas Lottery. At this point, Texas is a State surrounded by neighbors who all allow, to some extent, full casino gambling.  Louisiana has casino hubs in Vinton, Kinder, Lake Charles and Shreveport*, Oklahoma has Tribal casinos in Durant and Thackerville* and New Mexico has casino race tracks in Hobbs and Sunland Park*. In short, for most Texans there are casino gambling options within a few hours drive from home.

One of the arguments "FOR" expanded gaming in Texas are rosy fiscal projections, by supporters, suggesting that Texas would achieve somewhere in the area of $1.2 Billion in additional taxes/fees, as well as $416 Millions in taxes/fees for local entities. (source: 2013 Financial Impact Study commissioned by the Texas Association of Business) Unfortunately, for supporters, that's an argument that doesn't quite hold water.

Consider gambling revenue from neighboring States:

Oklahoma: $122 Million

Louisiana: $675 Million

New Mexico: $131 Million

That's total State income of approximately $925 MM. When viewed purely through that lens it makes sense to say that Texas could achieve $1.2 B in revenues. However, it's important to note that over half of the State revenue (with the possible exception of Louisiana) are not coming from Texas sources.  When you attempt to carve out the Texas portion of the state's revenue, you end up with a number that's close to $700 MM, which is a lot lower than the $1.6 Billion in overall revenue increases that the TAB is projecting.

The above ignores the fact that, in Texas, the issue of expanding gambling to allow for casinos is a dead issue. I felt the sign that the issue is no more was cemented by the opening of the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles. If Tillman Fertitta, the person most readily positioned to capitalize on Texas gaming, purchased a gaming license in Lake Charles tells me that he believes the legislation will not pass any time in the near future.

This leaves Texans with a desire to gamble with out-of-state options. I'm going to spend some time, in the coming weeks, talking in-depth about the pros and cons of each of these options and why, or why not, visiting there is a good bet.  Those options are: (in order that I plan on writing about them)

1. Louisiana
2. Oklahoma
3. New Mexico
4, Atlantic City
5. Other States (combined)
6. Las Vegas

There are pros and cons to each of these destinations which I hope to address honestly and fully in this series.

It's important to note that gaming comes with the potential for fun, but also has horrible downsides. People with addictive personalities should not gamble. Neither should people with poor impulse control.  The rush that goes with a winning bet is undeniable, as is the crushing price of not being able to control your bank-roll.  Before you take up, or continue, gaming, I encourage you to try and bet a few small hands at a Texas race-track.  See how you do controlling yourself. If you find you have problems, cannot stop, keep trying to "get back" losses by spending more then try and find a new hobby.  Casinos are among the most fun places, in my opinion, to spend time in the world. The buzz is undeniable, the action is fun and the people watching is amusing. However, they're also some of the most depressing.  Keep that in mind.

I look forward to hearing your feedback on this series and if you have any questions or things you would like to see addressed please let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do.

*Of course, there are other casinos in each of these states but I'm mainly focusing on the ones that specifically cater to the Texas audience. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Houston Rockets: About that heart transplant.

I've never been more happy to be proven wrong, but right at the same time.

Yup, I said it.

Houston Rockets: The Thing that needs to be said. Me, SLAM

They're done, barring something changing in the mental make-up of this team. They can talk as much as they want about "backs against the wall" and "being back in our house" all they want. Lest we forget the win that they had at home required some of the most curious officiating of the series. Game 1?  Well, it was a blowout as well. I don't see any way this Rockets team beat the Clippers 3 games in a row. Barring a heart transplant that is.
Apparently, they had that transplant completed and it appears that they swapped with the Clippers in games 5, 6 and 7.  It was eerily similar to the Phoenix series in which a totally different Rockets team went and did the same thing.

I'm a firm believer in never saying never. You always leave yourself an out. After game 5 I was still unimpressed, thinking that the Clippers would rise up at home and put us all out of our misery.  Then the unthinkable happened. It was the Clippers who just quit.  And then, in game 7, they quit again.

Meanwhile the Rockets played with heart and drive and did everything they needed to in order to win the series and face the daunting puzzle that is Golden State and Curry.

The opening line on that series is Golden State -850 with the Rockets coming back at +575.

Despite everything that happened in the previous series I think that line is about right. During the regular season the Rockets were not competitive against the Warriors and I'm unsure if they match-up with the 1st seed well enough to ask the questions they need to ask.

All that said, at that value, I like the Rockets pick here.  If they do win however they're going to have to steal one in Sacramento and hold-serve at home. That's a hard task against a team that's looking all the world like the next champions.

Still, the Rockets have a strong beating heart now, that means a lot.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Houston Rockets: The Thing that needs to be said.

They. Quit.

Behind all of the hand-wringing and philosophizing about what went wrong with the Houston Rockets over the last two games (30 and 33 point blowouts to the Clippers) the elephant in the room is that, in the 2nd half of both games, the team just flat out quit.

Yes, Kevin McHale is a strategic liability, and yes both DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have been killing the Rockets with great inside play.  But isn't that why the Rockets went out and obtained the services of Dwight Howard, to put a damper on great inside play?  And what, last night, did Howard do? He found a way to get himself ejected from the game. 

That's quitting, any way you look at it.

In the past I've been hard on James Harden because he scores points, but forgets that there's another, equally important, half of the game. On defense a disengaged James Harden is a liability to the Rockets. He's been a defensive liability this entire series. He's playing closer now to "sixth man of the year" status than he is anywhere near the 2nd place finisher in the MVP balloting.  If you had to revote right now would Harden even be in your top 5?  Probably not.

The Rockets are the basketball equivalent of a Lindt Chocolate Truffle. They have a seemingly hard exterior which, once cracked, exposes a silky soft interior. The thing is, it's not all that hard to break through the shell if you're a good team.

The Dallas Mavericks were not a good team. They were led by a rapidly aging Nowitzki, a 2nd-tier scorer in Monte Ellis and a male fashion model masquerading as an NBA player in Chandler Parsons. The 1st round win, and the breathless analysis that the Rockets had "progressed" from last year because of it, is nothing more than fool's gold. Had the Rockets played the Spurs instead of the Mavericks it would have been San Antonio and the Clippers going at it in Round 2. It would have been a much better series as well.

It was a brain-dead moment on the last day of the season by the Spurs that prevented that from happening. If anything, this proves that the regular NBA season still has importance, but it means nothing in terms of a team's chances of winning a championship. To win one of those, you need heart. And the Rockets desperately need a transplant. Stat.

I've no doubt that head coach Kevin McHale is going to take the lion's share of the blame for this. And that share is well deserved. At times against the Clippers he has seemed clueless about what needs to be done to turn this train-wreck around. It's very clear that, from an X's and O's perspective, he's not only overmatched but, against the top coaches, he's not even playing the same game. I think the Rockets need to seriously consider making a change in the off-season.

Some of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of GM Daryl Morey as well. While I'm a fan of Sabremetrics and the statistical approach it takes to building a roster, I also think that it needs to be blended with the human factor as well. A team needs competitors, and the Rockets have few. It's OK to have Dwight Howard and James Harden on your roster leading the team provided you have another leader who has the desire, and strength of will, to herd the cats when things start turning South. The Rockets thought that Terry would be that veteran, but he doesn't play a big enough roll to matter.

Hard core fans will point to the fact that Beverly and D-Mo are out with injuries. That's true. But would a middle of the pack NBA point guard and below-average small forward really do much to change the dynamics of the series?  Not as long as the big two decide to open up a can of quit when things get dicey.

If anything, the Game 4 result reminded us that the window for this Rocket's team has always been very narrow, and it's closing in a hurry.  Early rumors are that the Mavericks are going after LaMarcus Aldridge, which would make them a much more formidable team next year. A legitimate playoff contender. Something they weren't this year. Golden State has Steph Curry, Cleveland is still out there with King James and the Bulls are looking like a team on the come. We still haven't mentioned the Clippers, whose time might be THIS year the way they are playing.

And the Rockets?

They're done, barring something changing in the mental make-up of this team. They can talk as much as they want about "backs against the wall" and "being back in our house" all they want. Lest we forget the win that they had at home required some of the most curious officiating of the series. Game 1?  Well, it was a blowout as well. I don't see any way this Rockets team beat the Clippers 3 games in a row. Barring a heart transplant that is.

Here's the 2nd point:  If your team rolls over and plays dead, TWICE, then you as a fan are under no obligation to keep with them. They quit, you quit. It really is that simple. "Wait until next year!" is a perfectly acceptable rallying cry.

Because of that I'm going to be spending my Tuesday evening watching the sure to be more entertaining Game 7 between the Capitals and the Rangers in the NHL. For the Rockets, I'm taking the Missouri approach:

Show me.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Biggest Sports Weekend (EVER!) that was.

If you're a fan of sports, then waking up on Monday might feel like somewhat of a downer after Saturday. There's obviously a LOT to cover but let's give it the once-over shall we?

1. Draft "grades" are stupid. Mainly because you're attempting to grade something without knowing whether or not any of the players drafted are going to play or not.  What we should be doing, right now, is grading the 2011 drafts of the teams. Those are the drafts whose rookie contracts are getting ready to roll off and we have a good idea how the teams did.

2. American Pharoah is now the only horse to have a shot at the Triple Crown. That said, were I his owners I'd run him in the Preakness, and then give him some time off to rest for the Fall card, including the season-ending Breeder's Cup.  With all of the big races later in the season running a 3 year old a mile and a half (a distance it's probably never going to run again) on the heels of two tough races does more to damage a horse in the long-run than help it. Oh, and the Woodford Reserve Turf Stakes was one of the better horse races you'll ever see.

3. MayPac was, unsurprisingly, not the super-fight of the Century that it was hyped to be. Mayweather is a smart man. He waited until Pacquiao was incapable of doing the things he needed to do in order to win the fight, before he agreed to fight him. Instead of two of the best pound-for-pound fighters slugging it out, we got a typical Mayweather dance that was overpriced, and left people with a bad taste in their mouths.

I do think that this could signal the beginning of the end of the pay-per-view era of professional boxing.  And good riddance.  As Al Hayman's Premier Boxing Champions series continues to prove: the best boxing matches could, and should, be fought on Network TV.  Also given that Showtime boxing has elevated its status to become a true challenger to HBO and you have several outlets where the biggest fights can occur, on free TV or tiered cable.  Charging $100 (or even more ridiculously, $30/head time capacity at a bar) effectively priced a large percentage of the population out of the watching the fight live. I refused to buy the PPV, and my local bar (which typically carries all of the fights) elected to not pay the exorbitant fees.  As such, I followed the fight on Twitter. I'll DVR it when either HBO or Showtime airs it on their networks and feel like I haven't missed out on anything.

4. Clippers vs. Spurs - Game 7 What was initially threatened to be overshadowed by the "other" events of the weekend ultimately turned out to be the best event of them all. This was a classic basketball game with two teams throwing haymakers at the end, and with Chris Paul, limping around on one hamstring, ultimately sinking a beautiful shot to clinch the win for the LA team.

It was also a heroic last stand for what was one of the greatest NBA runs of all time for the Spurs, who will undoubtedly have to consider finally admitting that Duncan and Ginobli are aging players and will begin the process of drastically altering their roster going forward. If you missed this game to watch the horrid undercard for MayPac, you really lost out.

All of that and I still haven't mentioned the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the fact that the Houston Astros are currently playing out of their minds. I also didn't mention that Rory McIlroy is pretty good.

All in all it was a great weekend to be a sports fan. One of the better ones in recent memory.

Sports Section