• Will sports wagering expand to political events? Should it?

    The Los Angeles Times has a news report on Las Vegas bookmakers taking some bets on non-sporting events.

    Let me explain why that’s important and why it should be encouraged.


    As Vegas sports books expand betting options, MVP voting is fair game. Will presidential elections be next? (Los Angeles Times)

    And though bets on nonsporting events — such as the Academy Awards, the presidential election and reality TV shows — are not allowed in Nevada, they are permitted overseas, and interest in such betting provides a push for casinos to expand their portfolios beyond traditional wagering.

    But regulators and casinos remain mindful of tampering or influence where voting, rather than scoring, decides an outcome. They have instituted safety measures, such as halting betting well before voting takes place and capping the amount that can be won — usually about $10,000. Most casinos require identification through a player’s card for bigger bets.

    “We’re not going to take six-figure bets on these,” said Jay Kornegay, Westgate’s vice president of race and sports book operations. –LA Times


    My Comments

    These “Prediction Markets” provide valuable information to the public

    • Everything we know about these betting markets suggests they give us the best, unbiased forecasts of future outcomes
      • To put it concretely, you cannot regularly beat the “line” in pro football bets unless you have valuable, non-public information, such as the extent of a player’s injury.
      • If you actually have such information and can legally bet by using it, your bet will change the odds. That gives the public some real information, in the same way that price movements for milk or chicken at the supermarket give you information about shortages or surpluses.
    • The deeper the betting pool, the more reliable the forecasts
      • Are they more reliable than polls? Yes, because the bettors incorporate information from the polls in their betting.
      • In fact, they incorporate information from every source and have powerful incentives to get more information and to distinguish signal from noise.
      • There are such markets now in England, but Americans are restricted in using them; there are small markets (largely for academic purposes) in the US. Larger, deeper markets would be far more informative.
    • Allowing legal betting on political events such as presidential or Congressional elections would make these markets much, much deeper–and give the public better information
    • The only reason to block these bets (besides general opposition to gambling) is the possibility the events themselves could be corruptly influenced by bettors.
      • The fact that many states have lotteries indicates there is no general opposition (though state legislatures may not want any competition)
      • Corrupt influence is far more likely in sports, such as mobsters bribing fighters to throw a match
      • It can also happen in financial markets, such as a major oil-producing country betting on the futures markets, using inside knowledge that the state itself will expand or cut its production
    • The risks of bettors corruptly changing outcomes they bet on is remote and almost certainly less than in other markets were wagering is permitted.
    • For these reasons, political wagering should be permitted in states that also permit sports wagering

    Some examples where it would be valuable for the public to know the odds:

    1. Will the government of Venezuela be overthrown by Dec. 31, 2017
    2. Will Bashar al-Assad still be in office by December 31, 2017?
    3. Will Boris Johnson be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on September 1, 2017?
    4. Will Pres. Donald Trump complete his full first term in office?
    5. Will the Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2018?

    Lots of people are interested in these events and some would like more accurate forecasts about the outcome. For example, oil producers would like to know more about Venezuela as they plan their own production. By the same token, they may have good sources of information about the situation there so their bets would inform others by changing the odds.

    Knowing the odds in political-prediction markets would be very informative to them and to policymakers.

    On international events, for instance, it would give the National Security Council, CIA, Defense Department, and State Department additional information to incorporate in their policy planning.

    For these prediction markets to work well, the outcomes would have to be well-defined before the events. To bet on the outcome in Venezuela, for instance, I need to know the exact definition of “overthrowing the government.”

    That is obviously more complex than setting a 3.5 point spread for a football game, but it is already done in today’s thinner prediction markets. So, I don’t see any insurmountable technical reasons why political prediction markets cannot be expanded.

    They would certainly be useful–to the public and to policymakers.


    If the general topic interests you, I highly recommend a fascinating (and non-technical) book:

    The Wisdom of Crowds Paperback by James Surowiecki

    Surowiecki is not a cheerleader for all crowdsourcing.

    The book explains, in clear, lucid prose, when it works well and when it does not.


  • Uber from Chicago to Buffalo–and the friendship it forged

    The cost: $900, including a $300 tip.

    The friendship: priceless.

    A wonderful story of the driver and the passenger–a pro football player stranded in Chicago and determined to get to practice in Buffalo (Washington Post)

    Buffalo Bills cornerback Shareece Wright found himself in a bind on Sunday night. He badly wanted to attend the team’s voluntary workouts — which began Monday — but was stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport with no flights available. And so to solve the problem, Wright whipped out his smartphone, opened his Uber app and called a car.

    Looking at his phone on the other end of the ride-sharing app was 26-year-old Hadi Abdollahian. …

    Abdollahian wouldn’t find out what he actually signed up for until he spoke to Wright, who called him as he made his way to the airport.

    He told me Buffalo and I thought he meant Buffalo [Wild Wings] grill,” Abdollahian told The Post. “So I said, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ ”  –Washington Post

    During the hours on the road, they became friends.

    Abdollahian said Wright also inquired about his life, including his past, which saw Abdollahian relocate to Chicago from a war-torn region of Turkey four years ago under a United Nations refugee program.

    “I loved his company,” added Abdollahian, who hopes to study computer science this fall at Loyola University. “We had a great time.”

    And the feeling was apparently mutual. Not only did Wright rate Abdollahian five stars on Uber, but the two have remained in contact.

    “He called me today,” Abdollahian said. –Washington Post

    Tip of the Helmet to David Henley for this wonderful story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 4

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     England’s third major terror attack in 10 weeks raises fundamental questions about how to prevent these assaults

    Comment: Kudos to the London police for their immediate response. It was swift, sure, and effective. 8 minutes from first incident to squads arriving in force. Their swift action prevented countless additional casualties.


    The problem is how to prevent these attacks, both in the short run (surveillance, arrests, etc.) and long run (tougher restrictions on immigration and rethinking the obvious failure to integrate the communities into the liberal west).

    All Europe is facing a high threat from Islamic extremists, many (like the Manchester bomber) born in the very Western countries they are terrorizing.

    As ISIS is squeezed abroad, they will try to revive their organization by killing in Europe.

    Ordinary Europeans will refuse to live in perpetual terror and demand answers from their failing political leaders.

     US media reported the London attack, wall-to-wall, but buried one aspect of the story. Any guesses? You are correct.

    I explain the MSM’s fecklessness, and illustrate it concretely, in a separate post, here. I call it PC BS.

     In happier news, one of baseball’s all-time greats, Albert Pujols become the 9th player to hit 600 homers. (ESPN) The cherry on top: it was a grand slam. Another cherry: it comes in the post-steroid era. His head and arms actually look human. 

     Japan holds evacuation drills as North Korea’s nuclear program advances  (Reuters)

    Comment: The Japanese navy is also conducting joint exercises with the US fleet.

    My sense is that the Chinese are playing rope-a-dope, doing a little to slow down Pyongyang but not nearly enough. That is simply unsustainable for the US and Japan.

     Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell hopeful on tax cuts, less so on healthcare  (Reuters)

    Comment: Tax reform is essential, and the Republicans know it, not just for the economy but for their reelection.

    On healthcare, the pressure in late autumn, when next year’s premium notices go out, will be enormous. Obamacare is melting down, and that means suffering. The Republicans will point at Obama and the D’s. But that won’t cut it. People elected the R’s to fix it.

     California progressives really, really want single-payer, and they want their state to provide it. (Fortune)

    The state Senate, with a big Democratic majority, passed it easily. They skipped over the pesky problem of paying for it. (Honestly, they did absolutely nothing about funding it.)

    How expensive would it be? $400 billion. That’s huge. More than twice as big as the entire state budget today.

    No one knows if the State Assembly will pass it or if Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it.

    Naturally, they would need to heft tax hikes to pay for it, but economic studies show there is still a big shortfall. (ABC News)

    Comment: The leading Democratic contender for Governor, Gavin Newsom (former mayor of S.F.), put on his tin-foil hat and strongly backed the single-payer plan.

     Another “can you top this” in college crazies: Black students at Evergreen State U. in Olympia, WA, demand all white people leave the campus for a day.  (Washington Post) 

    Their demands managed to close the entire school for a day.

    For some reason, not everyone thought this white-leave-campus thing was a good idea.

    One long-time progressive, Prof. Bret Weinstein, did not favor it. And he didn’t like the students’ demands that new academic hires deemphasize academic ability and focus on race/gender/undocumented/social justice/etc.

    As you can imagine, those opposed to Weinstein were not looking for a debate.

    The were looking for blood.

    In fact, the other professors at Evergreen State also turned on Weinstein. (National Review Online)

    It’s so nasty, so crazy that even the NYT’s Frank Bruni writes a column against it. Naturally, he begins by condemning the US, thus establishing his bona fides as a morally superior person, but he still doesn’t like the ideas out in Olympia. It’s a strong column–and one the NYT readership needed to see.

    There are names for people like Frank Bruni. Fascist. Racist. Sexist. Columnist.


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Richard Siegler
     and Tom Wyckoff for the Frank Bruni column.


  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 14

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     CBO projects Trump/Ryan Obamacare replacement would save money but that 24 million fewer people would be covered  (Washington Post)

    The analysis, released late Monday afternoon by the Congressional Budget Office, predicts that 24 million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured from 10 percent to 19 percent. The office projects the number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year –Washington Post

     CBO ignites firestorm with ObamaCare repeal score, reports The Hill

    Democrats highlighted President Trump’s campaign promises to provide “insurance for everybody,” saying the bill falls woefully short.

    “The CBO’s estimate makes clear that TrumpCare will cause serious harm to millions of American families,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement. –The Hill

    How does the CBO get these numbers?

    The CBO estimated that 24 million people would become uninsured by 2026 under the bill, largely due to the proposed changes to Medicaid. Seven million fewer people would be insured through their employers over that same time frame because some people would choose not to get coverage and some employers would decline to offer it. –The Hill

    Comment: The numbers create obvious political problems for Republicans, and the Democrats will exploit them.

    Here is how I figure Republicans will respond, at least publicly:

    1. The basic problem with the CBO score is that it compares the new program to Obamacare, as if the ACA will continue to exist and cover people. But it won’t. Obamacare is collapsing financially, so those people will actually lose coverage if we don’t repeal it and replace it with something sustainable. Even if Obamacare totters on for another year or two, insurers are dropping out and, as they do, monopoly providers will raise rates, forcing more people off Obamacare insurance.
    2. CBO projections are often wrong, and they certainly have been about healthcare costs and coverage.
    3. Even if 24 million fewer are covered, some of them may choose not to buy coverage since, unlike Obamacare, it is not mandated.
    4. By law, the CBO can only score the bill in front of them. For technical reasons (related to Senate reconciliation rules), we cannot include key measures that will reduce insurance costs and thus attract some of those 24 million to purchase insurance. The main measure will be sale of insurance across state lines and, secondarily, reform of costly tort laws.

     A quote to celebrate spring training: Bob Uecker’s thoughts on catching Phil Niekro’s knuckleball:

    The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up. –Bob Uecker

     The “progressive left” makes a regressive argument for stamping out speech…and they get to decide which speech.

    Here’s Slate’s cover story:  “The Kids Are Right: There’s nothing outrageous about stamping out bigoted speech

    Comment: The article is an artful scam, making its argument by allusion and demonization, without confronting serious counter-arguments.

    It says some speech is bad and “informal rules” ought to limit it, without explaining who gets to set those rules and what criteria should be used. Then, it notes that our Constitution does permit some restrictions on speech. That’s right, but it is a good reason to say, “Let the First Amendment set the restrictions, not Slate magazine writers.”

    The article goes on to attack Trump, Bannon (whom it explicitly calls racist), William Buckley (too religious), and others loathed by Slate readers.

    It concludes, “The purveyors of logic, of facts dutifully checked and delivered to the public, lost big league in November.”

    Why is that an argument for shouting down Charles Murray? It’s not. 

     Two airlines cancel routes to Cuba. Too little demand. Other airlines are cutting back flights and using smaller planes  (Miami Herald)

    Comment: Fortunately, one airline is still flying to Cuba, and doing it on their terms.

     EU’s top court rules employers may prohibit staff from wearing visible religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, at work (Reuters)

     Democrats cannot figure out how–or whether–to oppose Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch (Politico)

    Comment: He’ll win easily in the Senate and go onto the Court. The only question is how quickly Sen. leader McConnell will move.



    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
     for the airlines cancelling flights to Cuba and the story at Slate favoring speech suppression.


  • A high-school basketball coach who has made his players better people . . . for over four decades

    0 No tags Permalink 0

    Gene Pingatore–“Ping” to generations of players–has coached some greats, such as Isaiah Thomas.

    Working for decades at St. Joseph High School in suburban Chicago, he has won two state championships and is now approaching his 1000th win. Only 14 high school coaches have ever done that.

    But what makes his story so compelling is his lasting impact on the young men in his program.

    He thinks of himself, rightly, as a teacher.

    David Haugh tells the story beautifully in the Chicago Tribune. Here’s a sample:

    [Pingatore] always will cherish the experience of one team manager, in particular, 1986 graduate Ravi Rao. With uncommon confidence, Rao charged into practice one day and delivered Pingatore advice about a drill.

    “I said, ‘Would you like to be a manager?'” Pingatore recalled. “He said, ‘Yes,’ so I said, ‘Great, now get out of my gym and come back tomorrow.'”

    Over the next three years, Rao developed habits under Pingatore he believes helped him on the way to becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon after obtaining advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins and Virginia. Rao wrote Pingatore a note that maintains a special place in his heart.

    “It said, ‘I am successful because I was part of your program,'” Pingatore said. “Teachers get that all the time. Don’t forget I’m a teacher. I’m a high school coach, but this is my classroom. … This whole thing here is more than just basketball. That’s what I want to call my book: ‘More than Basketball.'” –David Haugh, writing about Coach Gene Pingatore at St. Joseph High School

  • Best College Mascot, bar none

    There are some great names for sports teams.

    Image resultI’ve always loved the “Toledo Mud Hens,” for instance. I also like the Wichita Wingnuts, the Topeka Train Robbers, the Akron Rubber Ducks, and the Hartford Yard Goats.  Impressive and goofy names, to be sure.

    Yesterday, a friend told me the Albuquerque minor league team was the “Isotopes,” honoring the Simpsons’ team of the same name at Monty Burns’ Nuclear Plant.

    But for college teams, I’m partial to one from Delta State University, in my home state of Mississippi. For a long time, their nickname was “The Statesmen,” and it is still their official name. It’s hard to think of a more boring one. So, they asked the students for suggestions and the winner was spectacular: the Fighting Okra. Everyone calls them that and uses the phrase, “Fear the Okra.”


    Kudos to Delta State.


  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, January 9

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Axelrod urges Democrats to avoid obstructionism He was speaking to a politically-savvy group in Chicago. (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: When David Axelrod talks political strategy, he is giving very valuable advice. I think he is here, too, both for Democrats and the country. As a political strategy, D’s should (and I think will) focus on a few targets. Their problem is that so many Trump nominees are ripe targets for the Democratic base: Sessions at Justice, Pruitt at EPA, DeVos at Education, Tillerson at State, and Puzder at Labor, plus whoever Trump nominates for the Supreme Court.

    ◆ Main Democratic Targets among Trump Nominees

    Comment: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has spoken of at least eight targets. Unless some damaging information, not currently known, emerges about them, each has enough votes for confirmation. The Democrats’ goals are to

    • Put up a strong fight to please their base
    • Damage Trump, his nominees, and their agenda
    • See which nominees are most vulnerable to assault and then focus their fire heavily on them

    There is actually a ninth target. The Democrats are certain to fight against Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Schumer has already said as much.

    ◆ WSJ says the Trump Economic Team has different perspectives on trade. Not everyone is a protectionist, they say. (Wall Street Journal) 

    Donald Trump is rounding out an economic team with competing power centers and contrasting views that could lead the White House in unpredictable directions as it tries to steer the U.S. toward faster growth.

    Several selections reinforce the basic split that permeated Mr.Trump’s campaign, with market-oriented advisers from the Washington and Wall Street establishment on one side and free-trade adversaries on the other. –Wall Street Journal

    Comment: One other division is likely to emerge.  Some, led by Mulvaney, are budget hawks. (Mulvaney was a member of the House Freedom Caucus, associated with the Tea Party.) Others, including Trump himself, have spoken of major infrastructure spending and shown no willingness to cut major entitlement programs, aside from Obamacare.

    ◆ Ryan, Trump economic team working together on tax overhaul, reports Fox Business.

    ◆ Related Story: Small Business optimism greatest since Reagan era Bloomberg reports here.

    Comment: The prospect of tax cuts and relief from burdensome Washington regulations are driving the animal spirits.

    ◆ Congratulations to Clemson for winning a great game against Alabama to become national college champions. It literally went down to the last second, which Clemson’s great QB connected for a short touchdown pass. Alabama played a great game, as well, but Clemson matched them stride for stride and ultimately had one stride more.


    ◆ To Rick Santelli and producer Lesley McKeigue for hosting me on CNBC Tuesday morning.
    People are still talking about Rick’s appearance Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, when he criticized Andrea Mitchell’s biased coverage. “On election night, I never saw you so unhappy,” he told her.
    Honesty is such a rare and refreshing approach.