It’s remarkable how attitudes toward sports betting have evolvedBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsNovember 5, 2018 at 8:00 pmI can talk all day about how much the views on sports betting and bookmaking have changed.Or I can just show you.While researching another topic this past week I came across a Gannett News Service article from 1981. Written by Mike Connolly as part of a series called “Money in Sports,” the version I read was published in the Cincinnati Enquirer under the bold banner headline, “Sports’ Image Threatened by Upswing of Gambling.”The in-depth article, which chronicled incidents involving illegal gamblers and sports bookmaking from across the country began, “Illegal gambling is stuck like a leech to the rich hide of American sports.”Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle on sports betting in 1991: ‘We know that regardless of what law enforcement does, we’re always going to be stuck with it.’That’s not a criticism of the writing or reporting. Frankly, the piece was excellent and touched on a multitude of nuanced issues involving gambling on games not usually hashed out on the nation’s sports pages then or now.That was 1981. Not `1931, or ’51. Fast forward another decade and similar stories broke in the news, usually just after an embarrassing college sports fixing scandal or bust of a mobbed-up illegal bookmaking ring.There was so much consternation that key figures in the U.S. Senate determined in the early 1990s to do something (mostly symbolic) about it. A plan was hatched that resulted in the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which basically limited single-game wagering to notorious old Nevada, whose legal sports betting industry had long been regulated and paying tribute, uh, I mean taxes, to the government.Press forward again, and in the new century you’ll find many more stories associated with illegal sports betting and the dangers the activity poses to the amateur and professional games.But back in 1981, few people – and by that, I mean absolutely no one I’ve ever heard of – predicted sports betting would come in from the cold. Nevada bookmaking industry was a shadowy outlier. Why, in 1981 Lefty Rosenthal and Joey Boston and Marty Kane were still rattling around the Stardust Race and Sports Book.So when Connolly waxed eloquent with, “It rides the back of the billion-dollar sports entertainment industry, sucking up an enormous number of wagers,” heads of newspaper readers nodded in agreement. Even those many readers who read the daily sports line in one of the increasing number of newspapers that published them – an act controversial back then – agreed with that view of the racket.And then, of course, they went off to work and eventually found a way to visit their neighborhood bookmaker. That’s the wonderful hypocrisy of the whole thing. But back to our story.In addition to the litany of relatively small incidents of gamblers associating with college and professional athletes – a common event since the beginning of sport – the article noted a few ironies. In Illinois, for instance, a federal judge barked at the state for operating a legal lottery while he was required by law to sentence five men for running a street lottery in violation of the law.Legal off-track betting in the New York tri-state area generated billions legally, but the courts were occasionally jammed with illegal sports betting cases. Still, the rules were the rules – and, hey, no one wanted to start emulating wicked bad Nevada with its well-lighted sports books.A favorite section of the ’81 story was devoted to an interview with National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was officially a staunch opponent of illegal sports betting despite the fact some of the league’s founding fathers were quite familiar with the activity. And even the recalcitrant commissioner knew how important gambling on games was to fans.“We have always been called upon to police our own game,” Rozelle said solemnly, not adding that some of the league’s most popular players were air-tight with illegal bookmakers and gamblers of every stripe. “All they (the police) do is just cut down on the volume of it. They don’t eliminate it. They know they can’t, so we know that regardless of what law enforcement does, we’re always going to be stuck with it.”It turns out Rozelle was right, wasn’t he?Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.