Tom Jicha

Tom Jicha grew up in New York City and worked with John Pricci at the short-lived revival of the New York Daily Mirror. Tom moved to Miami in 1972 for a position in the sports department at the now defunct Miami News.

Tom became the TV critic in 1980 and moved to the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1988. All the while he has kept his hand in sports, including horse racing. He has covered two Super Bowls, a World Series and the Breeders Cup at Gulfstream Park.

He's been the Sun Sentinels horse racing writer since 2007 as a staff member, and continues to this day as a free-lancer.

Most recent entries

Monthly Archives


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christie tells Uncle Sam, keep your hands off sports betting

Former NJ governor Chris Christie, the driving force behind the legalization of sports betting, gave a speech this past week in which he urged lawmakers from gambling states to tell the federal government that it is not needed to oversee the newest form of gambling. In other NJ-related news, Monmouth Park made a long overdue move to separate the track's centerpiece event, the Haskell, from the same weekend as the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. It's a step in the right direction but not a big enough step.

Chris Christie might be a typical politician, who enjoys the sound of his own voice, but let’s give credit where credit is due. He almost single-handedly was responsible for the legalization of sports gambling.

As governor of New Jersey, he took breaks from screwing up traffic on the George Washington Bridge to relentlessly push for the lifting of the federal prohibition against betting on games. Despite countless setbacks in the courts, he refused to take no for an answer and eventually won the day at the Supreme Court.

Now a private citizen, Christie continues to be a leading voice on the implementation of sports betting. He gave a speech this week to the National Council of Legislators from Gambling States whose key point was states do not need the federal government intruding into their business

The catalyst was a bill introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and now retired Orrin Hatch (R-Ut), which would give the feds oversight and regulatory power over sports betting.

Christie’s talking point was, “who needs them?” He pointed out that the federal government was the enemy throughout the legalization fight. Why embrace them as allies now? “We need to stand up and fight strongly against federal regulation,” Christie argued. “We fought for seven years to get the right to do this ourselves. Let’s not give it away.”

Racing has a sizable constituency, which advocates federal involvement in the sport, especially in the area of drug testing. The same conditions do not exist in sports betting. Numerous athletes have been caught using performance enhancing drugs but this don’t have the impact on a single game or series of games that drugs do in racing.

What’s more, all the major sports have strong central governing bodies, something many in racing yearn for but appears to be light years away from fruition.

What could the federal government offer sports? Christie noted that Nevada has done an admirable job of uncovering scandals, most involving point-shaving. “Where did Nevada sports gaming ever seem it was incapable of being regulated by the state regulators in Nevada? When I ask people in the federal government this, they can’t come up with one reason.”

Nothing government does is free. If Uncle Sam gets involved in sports betting, the first thing that will happen is a new massive, expensive bureaucracy will be created, because that’s what government does.

Louisiana state senator Ronnie Johns cut to the chase. “I can see a tremendous money grab from the feds.”

A good move

Monmouth Park has finally done something long overdue. The Haskell, the track’s centerpiece event, has been moved ahead by eight days to July 20.

This separates it from being on the same weekend as the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, which has never been good for either race or racing in general. Shifting from Sunday to Saturday has an additional advantage. Monmouth has been guaranteed coverage on NBC for the next three years.

I have been advocating that the Haskell be moved even further, to July 4 or the closest weekend to Independence Day, to get it away from the premier races at the Spa. However, I do recognize that Monmouth prefers to stage its biggest day while it is the only thoroughbred track in the Metropolitan area.

I would counter that each track has its own customer base, with minimal crossover, so this is an issue that might have had relevance in the past when Belmont would get 40,000 people on a Saturday and these people needed an outlet when the horses were upstate. With ADW’s and OTB’s, this is no longer the case.

Casual fans are event oriented. If Monmouth had the day’s big attraction, this is where they would show up.

One reaction in the media to the new date offers another clue as to why the move took so long. Stephen Edelson of the Asbury Park Press wondered if the earlier date will cost Monmouth horses from the Triple Crown races. He speculated that Bob Baffert might not have shipped Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to the 2015 Haskell if it had been six weeks, rather than seven, removed from the Belmont Stakes.

I would counter that American Pharoah was a once-in-four decades exception and Baffert wheeled him back in less than four weeks in the Travers. Justify didn’t make the Haskell, or any other race, after the Belmont. Long term decisions shouldn’t be influenced by hypotheticals.

Moreover, the Belmont is such a gruelingly unique race it could be hurt more than the Haskell. Unless a trainer had a Triple Crown candidate, he or she might skip the mile and a half on Long Island in favor of a $1 million mile and an eighth on the Jersey Shore a month later.

Chad Brown did this last summer with Eclipse champion Good Magic. He skipped the Belmont and went from the Preakness to the Haskell. On Haskell Day, he was the leading 3-year-old in training and won easily to bolster this status.

I don’t want to blaspheme but unless you have the Kentucky Derby winner, the Preakness and Belmont have become mere lucrative options on a racing calendar brimming with them.

The new date also offers trainers an extra week between the Haskell and Travers. It’s absurd that whether to run or not in any race could be contingent on whether it is five weeks or six weeks removed from a horse’s most recent race but this is the new norm we have to live with.

Written by Tom Jicha

Comments (35)


Page 1 of 1 pages