November 19, 2010
News that Joe Schlosser, aka longtime radio bad boy Sebastian, was arrested this week on sports gambling charges came with all the shock of the sun rising in the East.
The odds had to be no longer than even money.
Heck, if you wanted to play a word association game and said "Hartford area" and "gambling," four responses immediately would roll off the tongue. Foxwoods. Mohegan. State of Connecticut. Sebastian.
The guy has his own handicapping website, Sebastian SportsPicks, touting "winning selections from Connecticut's king of sports radio." For $1,200, you can even subscribe for the entire 2010-2011 hockey season, quite a deal considering Sebastian once had an ongoing relationship with the Whalers and even broadcast a game or two in the 1990s.
If Joe D'Ambrosio, Scott Gray, Rich Coppola or any number of area sports media folks got nailed for involvement in an illegal sports betting operation, you could knock me over with a feather duster. But Sebastian? Did you ever listen to his shows?
I grew too scared to go on with him. I know some others on The Courant sports staff were, too. So many questions always were about who was going to win, how you thought a team would do against the spread, who was injured, etc. The only time the subject seemed to turn from sports betting was when he'd ask who you thought was the hottest player on the UConn women's basketball team.
You let your guard down on the air, begin blabbering away, and the next thing you know you're one careless response away from a suspension or even losing your own job. I don't really know Sebastian personally. Brash, irreverent, I do know he can be funny and my on-air dealings with him were cordial. Yet if you didn't go on, Sebastian would harp on that on the air. Nobody wants to look like a weenie.
None of this, of course, makes Sebastian or the 12 others guilty of the various charges announced by the state police. All will have their day in court and the chance to prove the confiscated Ferrari and Mercedes were purchased through only the most honest of means.
What this does is raise some hard questions. Let's start with the various radio stations he worked for, right down to the latest, WTIC, a reputable media power in Connecticut. No, it's not illegal to sell handicapping tips or hire a guy who's doing it for your station. And, no, it's not illegal to go on the air with a former NFL player, Tebucky Jones, every Monday and Thursday night on "WTIC's Pregame Blitz" and talk frequently about betting on games.
But do you want to invite the reputation it brings? And might you have seen this coming?
In a much broader scope, let's ask ourselves: What are our expectations here? There are laws and if Sebastian broke them, the expectation is for him to be prosecuted. Yet exactly how badly do to we want to chase people like Sebastian? The FBI, the IRS, there were a number of arms in this operation. How much money as a society do we want to spend busting gambling operations that, in reality, are little more than competition to the state for the wagering dollar? Is society that much better off for having done it?
Do not take this as a ringing endorsement for sports gambling. It is not. I have seen the devastation it has done to people. Yet much more specific to the argument, I also see the line of hypocrisy we tiptoe in 2010 America.
Zenyatta's chase of perfection is one the great sports stories of 2010 and there were millions of legal dollars bet on her Breeders' Cup race. In Nevada, you can lay legal money on UConn vs. Syracuse Saturday night. You can bet on sports in Britain and there are all sorts of offshore accounts. Delaware has fought like crazy to expand its sports wagering.
Look around us. There's gambling everywhere in Connecticut. Slots, poker, blackjack, there's everything but sports betting at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Heck, I could have filed this column 10 minutes sooner if I didn't have to wait at the convenience store for people holding up the line buying lottery tickets.
That's all gambling. Yes, it's legal. And it's still gambling. If you're reading this piece online, cruise the site. We've got ads from the Connecticut lottery and both casinos.
The proliferation of legalized gambling remains one of the most important societal questions of this generation. I refuse to believe we have all the answers, yea or nay. For every argument about a gambling addict ruining his marriage, there is one about roads and schools being subsidized. For every argument that gambling killed a man's budget, there is one about how it helps balance a state's budget. Prohibition didn't work in 1920s. Irresponsible behavior has never worked. That's my way of saying I don't know the answer and I hope within a few decades we all can forge a highly nuanced, reasoned view … if casinos haven't taken over the country by that point.
Sebastian has pulled some juvenile pranks in his day. He once announced The Courant was closing. Another time, he announced Avon Mountain had erupted. He got in hot water for a comment about jai alai players. He could be needlessly cruel, too, like with his comments about gays and his "berate the brides" feature, where he'd go through Courant photos and have callers judge the brides in search of a "dog of the week." There will be no shortage of Schadenfreude in some corners about his plight.
Radio shock jocks, of course, have long walked the line of decency and legalities while moving from station to station. As his job focused more and more on sports, Sebastian put sports writers on that line, too. Like when he asked if I thought Sue Bird was hotter than Swin Cash or if the Patriots would cover against the Raiders.
So now I've got two questions for Joe Schlosser, aka Sebastian:
What are the odds of you going to prison for more than a year?
And how soon will you have me on the air so we can talk about this?
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant