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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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"Da Coach" Talks Gambling

18 August 2004

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "Don & Mike's", the new sports bar that opened at the Majestic Star Casino in Gary, Indiana.

It's named for Don H. Barden, owner of the casino, and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, who signed on as official spokesman for the property earlier this year.

I had an opportunity to sit down and talking gambling with "Da Coach" and get his thoughts about his new career:

"It wasn't a big decision for me to sign on," Ditka said. "I'm not involved with the National Football League. I have a life made of choices. I choose to do this. It'd be different if I didn't gamble. I'm not worried about it. I gamble in Vegas, I gamble in Indiana, I've gambled in Costa Rica, so I'm gonna gamble. That's just the way I am. I don't care what people think of me. I know what I think of myself. And if it's not illegal, why should I worry about it?"

Ditka's close affiliation with a legal, state-sanctioned and regulated casino comes at a time when America's gambling conscious is at an all-time high. Gambling legislation is the hotbed of political conversation in revenue-starved states, including Illinois, while high stakes poker is the rage of cable TV.

Even though legalized gambling in various forms (the lottery, horse races, bingo, etc.) and the proliferation of casinos nationwide has aroused the public's awareness of betting, the practice is ages old. Why the sudden interest?

"It was illegal for years," Ditka maintains. "Now it's legal. Everybody has a little bit of a gambler in them. Very few people let it come out. But those who think they have a chance of taking a $25, $100 or $500 stake and turning into a $1,000 or $5,000 are going to try. Yet people seem to ignore the fact that the public wants it. I think that people like a game of chance. Life's a game of chance."

Ditka acknowledges that illegal forms of gambling still exist, especially on professional sports. Office pools, fantasy leagues and underground bookies thrive on the attention that point spreads and betting lines receive in the sports pages of newspapers nationwide, yet Nevada is the only state where you can place bets legally. Why the hypocrisy?

"Who said the media knows what they're talking about?," Ditka snaps. "It kinda amazes me that even the NFL turns its back on it. Do you know how much money is bet on professional football? You've got Vegas and you've got sports books. I mean it just doesn't make any sense. It's here to stay. Now, if the point they're making is that it's because they (the NFL) don't get a share of it, I don't know anything about that. But it's there, it's here to stay, and it ain't gonna change."

After the ribbon cutting ceremony at Don & Mike's, Ditka made a beeline to the casino floor and sat down to play craps at the head of what the Majestic Star has named "The Coach's Table". It's a recreation he obviously enjoys thoroughly.

"There's not a whole lot of betting I do," he maintains. "But I like to gamble. I like to roll the dice, bet on a golf game or play blackjack once in a while. I really don't go to the horse races, although when I played in the Pro Bowl in the sixties I'd go to Santa Anita with friends. I didn't know what I was doing. Just pick a color and bet on it.

"But I've never bet on sports in my entire life. I've never made a bet on a pro football game, basketball, baseball, anything. Here in the casino there's no point spreads, there's odds: that's all. And you gotta understand that when you gamble some odds are greater than others, depending on what game you're playing. You can play it close to the vest, or you can take your chances. There's no guarantee you'll ever win, but if you can't afford it you shouldn't do it."

Even though Mike is an unabashed proponent of legal gambling for those who are so inclined, he stresses the need to practice responsible gambling. At the same time, he views recreational casino gambling as a perfectly acceptable entertainment option that isn't as much out of the financial realm of families as most people think.

"You can't gamble for the rent and you can't gamble to feed your family," he emphasized. "You gotta take care of what's most important first. After that, I think it's fine to do. Most people have an idea of what they can afford. But you can't go beyond that. I believe you have to be responsible about how you do things.

"Most entertainment is very expensive these days. You can take your family to a Cubs game and easily whip out close to $500 for the day, including the tickets and refreshments for everybody. Now if you choose to spend that money in a casino, you derive all the entertainment value plus you have a chance to turn it into even more."

Ditka is the eternal realist, a man who has convictions and sticks with them, caring less about what others may think. In the long run he sees legalized gambling as a viable means by which revenues can be generated.

"It's a great source of revenue for the state involved," he said. "All you have to do is take a look at Nevada (no state income tax, lower cost of living). Go to Las Vegas and you'll see what's happening. It's incredible. Gambling's here to stay. It's going to be here forever."

Da Coach may not be roaming the sidelines anymore, but he's definitely the most high-profile former sports figure to associate himself commercially with a casino. And unlike the Pete Rose's of the world who fell prey to breaking the rules and the underground world of illegal bookies, Ditka is basking in the excitement and publicity of a new career.

"We're very fortunate to sign on a man of Mike Ditka's caliber to help re-energize our property," said Don H. Barden, the only African-American owner of a major casino national casino company whose holdings also include casinos in Las Vegas, Mississippi and Colorado. "The coach is a winner and we love that association. He's highly regarded throughout the country."

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp