Monthly Archives: November 2018

TTU hiring Matt Wells and moving away from the air raid tree

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Wells put together a top-25 team at Utah State, making himself a rising prospect in the coaching world.

Texas Tech is hiring Utah State coach Matt Wells to the same position.

Wells replaces Kliff Kingsbury, whom Tech fired right after the season and who reportedly was close to a deal Thursday — but hadn’t made one — to become USC’s offensive coordinator.

Wells, 45, coaches a spread similar to what Tech’s been running for two decades. But he’s not an air raid coach like Mike Leach or his old QB Kingsbury.

The Aggies throw a lot. They were 123rd in Standard Down Run Rate this year. They run their offense at tempo, too, and are 18th in Adjusted Pace. Quarterback Jordan Love had a great year running a fast-moving, pass-heavy system.

But they’re not an air raid team that lines up with four receivers all the time and runs four verticals, the play most associated with the air raid. The Aggies are a bit more balanced and have built an offense that’s designed to be harder to stop on the ground.

As you’d imagine with a team whose two featured backs are sub-5’10, Utah State made it a focus to get the ball to fast dudes in space. The Aggies accomplished that in ways both standard and creative. The standard was simple zone reads to create footraces:

And they used innovative blocking schemes to make space in the middle of the line, which their running backs could then burst through for nice gainers:

It looks like a fun offense to play in, but in a different way than the air raid. Wells will now get to see how it works with Power 5 personnel, albeit against Power 5 defenses.

Wells has seen his stock skyrocket in the last three months.

A USU quarterback in the mid-1990s, he got his coaching start on Charlie Weatherbie’s Navy staff from 1997 to 2001. He wore a bunch of hats there, including QBs coach, fullbacks coach, receivers coach, and head coach of the Mids’ junior varsity team (a service academy thing). He was Tulsa’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for five years after that, then did stints as a position coach at New Mexico (twice) and Louisville.

He was at USU again by 2011, the offensive coordinator by 2012, and the head coach by 2013, when his boss, Gary Andersen, left for the open job at Wisconsin.

The Aggies won 19 games in Wells’ first two years in charge, when a lot of their roster was still comprised of Andersen’s recruits. But after going 6-7 in 2015 and then sliding to 3-9 in 2016, Wells was at serious risk of getting fired. He rebounded by getting USU to the Arizona Bowl in 2017, and then everything changed with this year’s 10-2 breakthrough.

What Wells did in Logan was impressive. In the modern history of the program, only Andersen — who went on to do a solid job at Wisconsin before leaving — was able to bring the Aggies to these heights. Wells’ .564 winning percentage there is better than the rate for anyone else who’s spent as much time as he has (six years) at USU. The majority of the program’s coaches have exited the job with sub-.500 marks.

It’s not an easy job to win at, given the lack of elite recruiting pipelines nearby and Boise State being in the same division. But Wells put out a great team.

The team Wells built at Utah State is extremely solid, top to bottom.

The Aggies finished the regular season ranked 22nd in S&P+. That advanced stat had them 21st on offense and 36th on defense. They built a solid running game behind two junior backs who are between 5’8 and 5’9, Darwin Thompson and Gerold Bright. Wells developed an excellent sophomore QB in Love, who put up a 28-to-5 touchdowns-to-picks ratio.

Defense isn’t Wells’ background, but the Aggies played well there, too, holding up at a top-40 level against both the run and the pass. They had one of the most active secondaries in the country; USU finished No. 6 in DB Havoc Rate, a measure of how often players break up passes, intercept them, force fumbles, or get tackles for loss.

USU would’ve made the Mountain West title game if not for a tough late loss at Boise, the conference’s historic power. Wells was still named Mountain West Coach of the Year for a second time, and 18 of his players got all-conference recognition of some kind.

Despite not being in the Playoff committee’s top 25 at the moment, this team’s played like a top-25 team and has the opponent-adjusted statistical case to back that up. For the purposes of projecting how Wells will do going forward, that’s awfully enticing.

In a year without one hotshot candidate who clearly outclassed the field, Wells was one of the most desirable coaches out there.

Other than Jeff Brohm going back to his native Louisville, which didn’t actually happen, the coaching and media industries hadn’t identified one guy who had the stature of Tom Herman at the end of 2016 or Scott Frost at the end of 2017. But a handful of quality options with Group of 5 head coaching experience have emerged, like Wells, Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield, and Troy’s Neal Brown. Wells is a good get, especially this year.

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Climate change is making soils saltier, forcing many farmers to find new livelihoods

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Experimental field of a salt-tolerant rice variety in Bangladesh. IRRI, CC BY-NC-SA

Salt is essential for cooking, but too much salt in soil can ruin crops and render fields useless. According to legend, Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus sowed the soils of Carthage with salt after conquering the city during the Punic Wars. And after defeating the Italian town of Palestrina in 1298, Pope Boniface VIII is said to have plowed its lands with salt, “so that nothing, neither man nor beast be called by that name.”

Today it would be very expensive and logistically challenging to gather enough salt to render large swaths of land infertile. But that is precisely what climate change is doing in many parts of the world.

As sea levels rise, low-lying coastal areas are increasingly being inundated with saltwater, gradually contaminating the soil. These salts can be dissipated by rainfall, but climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, including droughts and heat waves. This leads to more intensive use of groundwater for drinking and irrigation, which further depletes the water table and allows even more salt to leach into soil.

We have documented this process in Bangladesh, but its impacts are much broader. Our findings show that rising soil salinity is already influencing agricultural production and internal migration in some locations, and could affect many other coastal areas where farming takes place, from Asia to the U.S. Pacific and Gulf coasts.

Sea level rise plus increased groundwater pumping can promote saltwater intrusion into groundwater aquifers, increasing treatment costs or rendering wells unusable.
EPA

Growing crops in saline soils

Farming has always been a challenging industry with razor-thin profit margins, even for large-scale farmers. Salt contamination, which leads to stunted and uneven plant growth, is already estimated to affect 20 percent of cultivated land worldwide.

Climate change drives soil salinization in several ways. First, ocean temperatures are rising, and warmer water takes up more space. Ice sheets and glaciers are melting and flowing into the oceans. Scientists currently project that global mean sea levels will rise by at least one-quarter to one-half meter by 2100, even with deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This process pushes salty water onshore along coastlines, from Bangladesh to the Mississippi Delta.

Climate change also causes heat stress, which will deplete groundwater resources and increase saline contamination of soils inland. This process is already affecting parts of Australia, sub-Saharan Africa and California.

Globally, soil salinization will translate into higher food prices and more food shortages. Locally, many farmers are seeing lower yields, which means less income.

Depending on the season and the degree of saline contamination, rice farmers in India can expect to lose anywhere from 7 to 89 percent of their crop. In coastal Bangladesh, we found that households facing moderate saline contamination earn roughly 20 percent less in crop revenue each year than those facing only mild soil salinity.

Taro crops destroyed by encroaching saltwater at Lukunoch Atoll, Chuuk State, Micronesia.
USDA Forest Service/John Quidachay

When life gives you lemons

Large-scale farmers and those in more developed countries have stronger safety nets and more options for coping with salty soils. Millions of subsistence farmers are left searching for ways to make ends meet.

In coastal Bangladesh, farmers are increasingly turning to fish farming as their lands become inundated. We estimate that the share of revenue these farmers derived from aquaculture rose by nearly 60 percent over a period of eight years as their soils became saltier. By diversifying in this way, they could almost entirely offset lost crop revenues.

We also found that converting to aquaculture made farmers less likely to migrate abroad to find work. This may not be a good thing: Competition in the shrimp farming industry is steep and wages are low, so farmers could spend their household savings to convert to aquaculture and then become trapped at the coast. On the other hand, these enterprises offer new job opportunities that may reduce the need to seek opportunities abroad.

Shrimps at a local fish market in Bangladesh.
Worldfish/M. Yousuf Tushar, CC BY-NC-SA

But this benefit is probably temporary. Converting farm lands to brackish ponds increases saline contamination of soils. In Bangladesh, it has led to conflict among coastal residents. Some enterprising shrimp farmers even go so far as to dig channels through embankments designed and built – typically by aid agencies and non-government organizations – to prevent saline intrusion.

Seeking new livelihoods

As the shift towards brackish aquaculture continues, crop cultivation will become even more challenging. Moreover, many households cannot afford to convert to shrimp farming. Instead, some are migrating within Bangladesh in search of new opportunities.

As soil salinity increases, we estimate that internal migration in Bangladesh would increase by 25 percent if all coastal locations had to contend with the highest soil salinity content currently observed. Moves to neighboring countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan would similarly increase. In total, some 200,000 Bangladeshi coastal farmers per year could migrate inland to seek new livelihoods. Two of the most popular destinations – the cites of Chittagong and Khulna – are located near the coast, so people who move there will still be vulnerable to sea level rise.

Many observers have spotlighted the potential for climate change to devastate Bangladesh by increasing river flooding. But as we have shown, river flooding triggers little to no out-migration in Bangladesh and elsewhere, particularly in delta regions where rivers meet the ocean. In fact, riverine flooding supplements soil nutrients, and longtime residents are experienced in weathering “usual” flood events.

Our findings confirm that it is not flooding that threatens livelihoods, but specific types of flooding. Sea level rise will pose unique challenges because of the resultant saline contamination and, eventually, permanent loss of habitable lands.

It is also important to consider broader social impacts of migration, both good and bad. Migrants’ mental health and life satisfaction may decline, but the remittances they send home can enable their families to invest in climate-resilient livelihoods. Dispersing household and village members over greater distances may weaken traditional social networks, but women may find greater empowerment as economic opportunities evolve.

Dr. Duong Van Ni of Can Tho University works to help farmers in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta adapt to rising salinity.

Helping coastal farmers cope

Forward-looking adaptation efforts will ease these transitions and reduce the social and economic costs of climate change. Developing salt-tolerant crop varieties and farming methods, and funding infrastructure projects to prevent saltwater flooding, can help coastal farms remain viable as sea levels rise. It will also be important to regulate brackish aquaculture to avoid conflicts between rice farmers and shrimp farmers.

Developing manufacturing and service sectors in secondary towns and cities, particularly those outside the saline belt, can also encourage preemptive migration out of vulnerable areas and provide better job opportunities for subsistence farmers. In highly vulnerable areas worldwide, such as southern Louisiana, governments may also need to consider plans for managed retreat as marginal lands become increasingly hard to protect from the inevitable encroachment of the sea.

The Conversation

Joyce J. Chen acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation via the Belmont Forum/IGFA Program (ICER-1342644).

Valerie Mueller is affiliated with the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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How a scientist says he made a gene-edited baby – and what health worries may ensue

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He Jiankui, a Chinese researcher, speaks during the Human Genome Editing Conference in Hong Kong, Nov. 28, 2018. He made his first public comments about his claim of making the world’s first gene-edited babies. AP Photo/Kin Cheung

On Nov. 28, He Jiankui claimed to a packed conference room at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong to have edited the genomes of two twin girls, Lulu and Nana, who were born in China.

Scientists at Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangdong, China, condemned He’s research asserting he “has seriously violated academic ethics and codes of conduct,” and philosophers and bioethicists were quick dive into the morass of editing human genomes. So I’m not going to cover that territory. What I want to address is what we learned: how He made these babies.

I am theoretically a retired professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. For more than 50 years, I have researched numerous aspects of assisted reproductive technology including cloning and making genetic changes to mammalian embryos, so I am interested in most any research concerning “designer babies” and the health problems they may suffer.

A first?

At the conference He gave a general overview of the science. While research like this would typically be presented to the scientific community by publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, which He claims that he intends to do, we can get a rough sense of how he created these modified babies. This is something that has been successfully done in other species and just last year in human embryos – but the latter were not implanted into a woman. He says he spent three years testing the procedure on mice and monkeys before he moved to working on human embryos.

There is no doubt that precise genetic modifications can be made to human sperm, eggs, embryos and even some cells in adults. Such modifications have been done ad nauseum in mice, pigs and several other mammals. Thus, it is obvious to scientists like myself that these same genetic modifications can, and will, be made in humans. The easiest way to make genetic changes begins with the embryo.

The toolbox

The trendiest strategy to modify DNA these days involves the CRISPR/Cas-9 gene editing tool, which can make precise genetic modifications in living cells. Although other tools have been available for years, the CRISPR/Cas-9 approach is simpler, easier, more accurate and less expensive.

The way it works is simple in concept. The Cas-9 component is a molecular scissors that cuts the DNA at the location specified by a small piece of RNA, called the “CRISPR template.” Once the DNA is cut, a gene can be modified at that location. The cut is then repaired by enzymes already present in cells.

In this case, He targeted a gene which produces a protein on the surface of cells called CCR5. The HIV virus uses this protein to attach to and infect the cell. He’s idea was to genetically change CCR5 so that HIV can no longer infect cells, making the girls resistant to the virus.

At this point He has not provided a clear explanation of exactly how he disabled the CCR5 and the nature of the genetic modification. But this kind of “disabling” is routinely used in research.

How he did it

He Jiankui presenting his data on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. The Chinese researcher claims that he helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung

From the diagram He presented, it appears that He injected the CRISPR/Cas-9 system into an egg at the same time as he injected a sperm to fertilize it. After this, the egg divided and formed a ball of dozens of cells – the embryo. At this stage, He removed a few cells from each embryo to determine if the desired genetic change was made. Based on my experience, the embryos were probably frozen at this point. When the analysis was complete, He probably thawed the modified embryos and transferred the best ones back into the mother’s uterus for gestation to term. Embryos without the edits or incorrect edits would either be discarded or used for research.

For many applications, it is ideal to make any changes to the genes at the one-cell stage. Then, when the embryo duplicates its DNA and divides to make a two-cell embryo, the genetic modification is also duplicated. This continues so that every cell in the resulting baby has the genetic change.

However, it appears that the genetic modification in this case did not occur until the two-cell stage or later, because some cells in the babies had the modification, while others did not. This situation is called mosaicism because the child is a mosaic of normal and edited cells.

When the modified embryo has reached the multi-cell stage, one cell is removed and tested to confirm that the embryo carries the modification.
Juan Gaertner/Shutterstock.com

Hazards of embryo editing?

What could go wrong in a gene-edited embryo? Plenty.

The first glitch is that no modification was made, which occurs frequently. A variation is that the change occurs in some cells of the embryo, but not in all the cells, as occurred in these babies.

The most common worry is so-called non-target effects, in which the genetic modification is made, but other unintended edit(s) occur in other locations in the genome. Having a modification at the wrong place can cause all kinds of developmental problems, such as abnormal organ development, miscarriage and even cancers.

From his slide it appears that He sequenced the genomes – the complete genetic blueprint for each child – at multiple stages of the pregnancy to determine whether there were any undesirable modifications, though these aren’t always easy to find. But until independent scientists can examine the DNA of these two baby girls, we won’t know the results. It is also not clear from the results He has shared so far whether this genetic change can be transmitted to the next generation.

Another common problem already alluded to is mosaicism, which appears to have happened in one of these twins. If some cells are edited, and some not, the baby might have liver cells that contain the edited gene and heart cells that have the normal version, for instance. This may or may not lead to serious issues.

Boy or Girl? You can already choose the sex of your baby.
Hannamariah / Shutterstock.com

Another issue is that manipulating embryos in vitro – outside their normal environment in the reproductive tract – where we can’t precisely duplicate the normal nutrition, oxygen levels, hormones and growth factors – could lead to developmental abnormalities including oversize fetuses, metabolic problems, and so on. This sometimes occurs with routine procedures such as in vitro fertilization when there is no attempt to make genetic modifications.

Fortunately, nature is quite good at weeding out abnormal embryos via embryonic death and spontaneous abortion. Even in healthy human populations reproducing normally, nearly half of embryos die before the woman even knows that she was pregnant.

We already design babies – and there are benefits

With in vitro fertilization, it is already possible to test the embryos to make sure they are free of inherited diseases like cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs syndrome and also to choose the sex of the baby.
Macrovector / Shutterstock.com

While I have emphasized what can go wrong, I believe that the science will evolve such that genetically modified babies will be healthier than unmodified ones. And these improvements will be passed on to future generations. Severely debilitating genetic abnormalities such as Tay-Sachs syndrome could be removed from a family by genetic modification.

Arguably, designer babies are already being born using a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnoses (PGD). A few cells from embryos are screened for dozens, and potentially hundreds, of genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and Tay-Sachs syndrome, to name a few. Parents are also able to choose those embryos of the desired sex. In my view, choosing which embryos to implant is clearly making designer babies.

Going a step further, PGD isn’t restricted to just eliminating disease. A prospective parent can also choose other traits. When one of the prospective parents in infertile, there are catalogs that provide the race, height and weight, and even the educational level of a sperm or egg donor, who is also determined to be free of major genetic defects, and free of AIDS and other venereal diseases.

It is already possible to choose desirable traits in our offspring as this advertisement reveals: ‘Become a sperm donor today! We’re looking for a few good men!’
Bilal Kocabas/Shutterstock.com

In my opinion, if the procedures are deemed ethically and morally acceptable, most genetic modifications likely to be made editing embryos as He says he has done, will involve removal of harmful traits rather than adding desirable ones. Because the changes will be targeted, they will be more precise and less harmful than the mutations that occur randomly in DNA of essentially all sperm and eggs naturally.

With all of this reproductive technology, there is one other consideration: the huge costs of the procedures described. To what extent should society invest scarce medical resources in applying such techniques, especially since any benefits likely will accrue mostly to wealthier families?

These perspectives need to be kept in mind when evaluating potential genetic manipulations of humans.

The Conversation

I have been principal investigator for dozens of contracts and grants to Colorado State University from dozens of organizations between 1972 and 2013, the subject matter of which concerned assisted reproductive technologies. There has been no such activity during the last 5 years since I am technically retired.

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The surprising way plastics could actually help fight climate change

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Over 99 percent of today’s plastics come from oil, but new bio-based options are becoming available. Icons by Vectors Market, Freepik and srip, CC BY

What do your car, phone, soda bottle and shoes have in common? They’re all largely made from petroleum. This nonrenewable resource gets processed into a versatile set of chemicals called polymers – or more commonly, plastics. Over 5 billion gallons of oil each year are converted into plastics alone.

Polymers are behind many important inventions of the past several decades, like 3D printing. So-called “engineering plastics,” used in applications ranging from automotive to construction to furniture, have superior properties and can even help solve environmental problems. For instance, thanks to engineering plastics, vehicles are now lighter weight, so they get better fuel mileage. But as the number of uses rises, so does the demand for plastics. The world already produces over 300 million tons of plastic every year. The number could be six times that by 2050.

Petro-plastics aren’t fundamentally all that bad, but they’re a missed opportunity. Fortunately, there is an alternative. Switching from petroleum-based polymers to polymers that are biologically based could decrease carbon emissions by hundreds of millions of tons every year. Bio-based polymers are not only renewable and more environmentally friendly to produce, but they can actually have a net beneficial effect on climate change by acting as a carbon sink. But not all bio-polymers are created equal.

Bioplastics don’t depend on drilling for oil since they get their carbon from CO₂ already in the atmosphere.
QiuJu Song/Shutterstock.com

Degradable bio-polymers

You may have encountered “bioplastics” before, as disposable utensils in particular – these plastics are derived from plants instead of oil. Such bio-polymers are made by feeding sugars, most often from sugar cane, sugar beets, or corn, to microorganisms that produce precursor molecules that can be purified and chemically linked together to form polymers with various properties.

Plant-derived plastics are better for the environment for two reasons. First, there is a dramatic reduction in the energy required to manufacture plant-based plastics – by as much as 80 percent. While each ton of petroleum-derived plastic generates 2 to 3 tons of CO₂, this can be reduced to about 0.5 tons of CO₂ per ton of bio-polymer, and the processes are only getting better.

It’s one thing for a cup to easily disintegrate, quite another for your car’s components.
Michelle Kinsey Bruns/flickr, CC BY

Second, plant-based plastics can be biodegradable, so they don’t accumulate in landfills.

While it’s great for disposables like plastic forks to biodegrade, sometimes a longer lifetime is important – you probably wouldn’t want the dashboard of your car to slowly turn into a pile of mushrooms over time. Many other applications require the same type of resilience, such as construction materials, medical devices and home appliances. Biodegradable bio-polymers are also not recyclable, meaning more plants need to be grown and processed continually to meet demand.

Bio-polymers as carbon storage

Plastics, no matter the source, are mainly made of carbon – about 80 percent by weight. While petroleum-derived plastics don’t release CO₂ in the same way that burning fossil fuels does, they also don’t help sequester any of the excess of this gaseous pollutant – the carbon from liquid oil is simply converted into solid plastics.

Bio-polymers, on the other hand, are derived from plants, which use photosynthesis to convert CO₂, water and sunlight to sugars. When these sugar molecules are converted into bio-polymers, the carbon is effectively locked away from the atmosphere – as long as they’re not biodegraded or incinerated. Even if bio-polymers end up in a landfill, they will still serve this carbon storage role.

CO₂ is only about 28 percent carbon by weight, so polymers comprise an enormous reservoir in which to store this greenhouse gas. If the current world annual supply of around 300 million tons of polymers were all non-biodegradable and bio-based, this would equate to a gigaton — a billion tons — of sequestered CO₂, about 2.8 percent of current global emissions. In a recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined capturing, storing and reusing carbon as a key strategy for mitigating climate change; bio-based polymers could make a key contribution, up to 20 percent of the CO₂ removal required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The non-degradable biopolymer market

Current carbon sequestration strategies, including geological storage that pumps CO₂ exhaust underground or regenerative agriculture that stores more carbon in the soil, lean heavily on policy to drive the desired outcomes.

While these are critical mechanisms for climate change mitigation, the sequestration of carbon in the form of bio-polymers has the potential to harness a different driver: money.

Competition based on price alone has been challenging for bio-polymers, but early successes show a path toward greater penetration. One exciting aspect is the ability to access new chemistries not currently found in petroleum-derived polymers.

Petro-plastic bottles can only be recycled a couple times max.
hans/pixabay, CC BY

Consider recyclability. Few traditional polymers are truly recyclable. These materials actually are most often downcycled, meaning they’re suitable only for low-value applications, such as construction materials. Thanks to the tools of genetic and enzyme engineering, however, properties like complete recyclability – which allows the material to be used repeatedly for the same application – can be designed into bio-polymers from the beginning.

Bio-polymers today are based largely on natural fermentation products of certain species of bacteria, such as the production by Lactobacillus of lactic acid – the same product that provides the tartness in sour beers. While these constitute a good first step, emerging research suggests the true versatility of bio-polymers is set to be unleashed in the coming years. Thanks to the modern ability to engineer proteins and modify DNA, custom design of bio-polymer precursors is now in reach. With it, a world of new polymers become possible – materials in which today’s CO₂ will reside in a more useful, more valuable form.

Planes are starting to be made of polymers as well – bio-polymers are the next step.
Eric Salard/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

For this dream to be realized, more research is needed. While early examples are here today – like the partially bio-based Coca-Cola PlantBottle – the bioengineering required to achieve many of the most promising new bio-polymers is still in the research stage – like a renewable alternative to carbon fiber that could be used in everything from bicycles to wind turbine blades.

Government policies supporting carbon sequestration would also help drive adoption. With this kind of support in place, significant use of bio-polymers as carbon storage is possible as soon as the next five years – a timeline with the potential to make a significant contribution to helping solve the climate crisis.

The Conversation

Joseph Rollin receives funding from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Jenna E. Gallegos does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Swamped by cyberthreats, citizens need government protection

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The public needs help from officials who can protect and serve. kirill_makarov/Shutterstock.com

Most people can’t keep up with the latest in technology, which puts them at risk as cybercriminals exploit human and technical weaknesses.

For example, William and Nancy Skog hoped to retire to a beautiful new home. Then a fraudster fooled them into transferring US$307,000 to his bank account. Their entire life savings disappeared in the blink of an eye.

This is not an isolated incident – it happens all the time across the globe, and attacks are increasing. Older computer users are particularly vulnerable.

Public officials around the world – and in the U.S. – are beginning to understand that their cybersecurity efforts need to do more than defend businesses and government agencies. Citizens’ personal cybersecurity is a key element of national security.

Governments have long addressed physical security through public safety services, like police and fire departments, as well as public health programs for water purification, sewage treatment and inoculation against infectious diseases. Similar efforts could – and, in our view, should – help citizens cope with cyberthreats.

We are cybersecurity behavioral researchers working with Craig Orgeron, who heads the state of Mississippi’s Department of Information Technology Services, contemplating how government could support its citizens when it comes to cybercrime. A new endeavor demonstrates what is possible. New York City’s government has launched a campaign to help residents to defend themselves against hacking, online fraud and other cybersecurity threats.

Improving cyber immunity

New York City offers its citizens a free smartphone app called “NYC Secure.” Any U.S. resident can download it, no matter where they live. It scans the person’s smartphone for a range of threats, and offers advice on how to fix any problems it finds. The app has some key strengths.

Most importantly, it targets citizens individually, delivering advice from a trustworthy authority directly to their pockets. This does not require people to search for information online and then figure out which web source to trust.

A new app gives a warning about smartphone security threats.
Screenshot of ‘NYC Secure’ app by The Conversation, CC BY-ND

The app essentially empowers citizens. Many hackers succeed because they exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities. Operating system providers and anti-malware software vendors make updates available to remove these, but the average citizen might not be aware of the need to install it. The app could bridge this gap, ensuring that far fewer devices can be successfully attacked.

As the app gains popularity, it could easily be extended to warn users as and when a new attack emerges. For instance, the widespread WannaCry attack of May 2017 compromised only computers that did not have a particular update installed. The app could easily warn people to install updates, tell them exactly how to check their devices for infection and even give directions for cleanup.

Attracting attention

The city’s campaign to protect its residents’ cybersecurity will bolster New Yorkers’ awareness of a wide range of online dangers. That could encourage them to take other protective actions. For example, many people use public Wi-Fi, which can easily allow attackers to eavesdrop on communications. An app that warned users about the dangers of Wi-Fi networks could help people choose whether to connect or not, and know that some activities – like bank transactions – should be conducted only on secure Wi-Fi networks.

In terms of privacy, too, people need help. Health care apps, mostly provided by private companies, are not particularly respectful of their users’ extremely sensitive data. The “NYC Secure” app, by contrast, diligently preserves its users’ privacy. The app embodies government’s goal to serve the citizenry without need for profit, which builds trust with users, making people more likely to use it.

It is impossible to wipe out all cyber threats – just as it is to eradicate all infectious diseases. Of course, even apps designed specifically to support and empower citizens may be targeted by hackers. The New York model is one other cities and states could emulate and extend: Give advice and provide tools to help citizens to repel cyber attacks. Governments could promote the “NYC Secure” app itself or provide something similar for their own citizens, especially if it provides regularly updated advice tailored specifically to address current and emerging threats. We believe governments have the responsibility to help their citizens protect themselves – both in the physical world and online.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Trump was dealt a winning hand on trade – his hardball negotiating tactics are squandering it

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Trump had a full hand, but he may have squandered it. Happy Author/shutterstock.com

As President Donald Trump prepares to meet with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Nov. 30, the stakes could hardly be higher.

The two countries are in the middle of a trade war Trump launched earlier this year, one of the hardball negotiating strategies he believes can extract more benefits from trading partners. Such “economic bullying” was blamed for creating a first-ever deadlock at a recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

So far, China shows few signs of budging in the face of mounting tariffs. Could Trump’s tough talk work? Or will it backfire on him and the Americans he represents?

Threats and humiliation

Exhibit A for those who believe such tactics are effective is the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, negotiated to replace NAFTA. Trump used threats, humiliation and punishing tariffs to get Canada and Mexico to agree to the new deal.

Supporters argue this shows his brand of bluster works. And that this strategy will help the U.S. win its trade war with China and get the better of the EU.

But even without the taunting tweets, Trump already has enormous leverage going into any trade negotiation, whether with Canada and Mexico, China or the EU. That’s because, as my own research has shown, boasting the world’s largest and strongest economy puts the U.S. in a unique position to extract concessions from its partners.

Yet, despite this advantage and the blustery rhetoric, Trump hasn’t actually achieved all that much. And in negotiations with China, he may have already squandered some of his biggest chips.

The US always has a strong hand

Forgetting Trump’s negotiating tactics for a moment, the U.S. went to the bargaining table with Canada and Mexico with an inherently strong hand. And, the same will be true when arriving at the bargaining table with China and the EU.

Research by economist John McLaren shows how small countries become more dependent on big ones when they integrate with each other. Indeed, recent research of my own, together with economists Tibor Besedes and Tristan Kohl, says Canada and Mexico did become more dependent on the U.S. because of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And empirical work by economists Rod Ludema and Anna Maria Mayda shows countries like the U.S. with greater exporting power tend to get more market access during bilateral negotiations.

Trump’s supporters argue that the new NAFTA deal with Canada and Mexico gives him a leg up.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Threats and tariffs

But, rather than focusing on playing the strong hand he was dealt, the president threatened to burn the house down.

For example, he’s been threatening to withdraw from NAFTA since the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and repeatedly tried to use his apparent eagerness to rip it up as a way to force Canada and Mexico to the negotiating table.

He also imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum – new levies that adversely affect Canada and Mexico much more than China. They’ve also hurt American carmakers, playing a part in General Motor’s plan to close up to five plants in North America and lay off more than 14,000 workers.

Yet Trump used these steel and aluminum tariffs – as well as the specter of new and severe auto tariffs – to back Canada and Mexico into a corner, even though both are key allies.

Furthermore, after reaching a separate deal with Mexico in August, Trump used it to put even more pressure on Canada by threatening to exclude America’s northern neighbor if it didn’t agree to their terms.

Tough talk and modest gains

And after all this, did he get “the most important trade deal we’ve ever made, by far,” as he claimed? Not quite.

In fact, U.S. gains in the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement are modest at best, even in the three areas most touted as wins.

While it’s true that U.S. dairy producers now have better access to the Canadian market, the Federal Reserve Banks of Minneapolis and Chicago predict little benefit. The increased market access is small. And U.S. dairy farmers are still facing tariffs from Mexico and Canada as retaliation for Trump’s metal tariffs.

Mexico’s promise of passing laws strengthening labor unions and worker rights also has little value for the U.S. Although these laws should reduce the extent to which Mexican workers are low-wage substitutes for U.S. workers, the new deal doesn’t spell out enforcement. So, like the old NAFTA, these are unenforceable promises by Mexico.

Finally, the U.S. did manage to get its way on a rule requiring a zero-tariff car coming from Mexico to have at least 30 percent of the work done by employees earning at least US$16 an hour – three times the typical Mexican autoworker wage. Some argue this will create more high-wage auto jobs in the U.S.

Good news for American autoworkers right? Wrong. The penalty tariff for missing this mark is just 2.5 percent. Rather than shifting lots of labor back to the U.S., car companies will simply pay the tariff.

Squandering a good hand

Now we turn to China, a trade relationship that’s far more complex.

Interestingly, the U.S. has even more leverage with China because most of its allies, such as the EU, agree with its concerns over intellectual property theft and a lack of market access. They would have joined a coordinated effort to push China to change its ways.

But once again, rather than playing this already strong hand, Trump doubled down on go-it-alone confrontation by piling on the tariffs, which now cover more than half of U.S. imports from China.

And he’s repeatedly threatened to go for broke and slap tariffs on all imports from China.

What has this achieved? A tit for tat, full-blown trade war, in which each Trump salvo is greeted by retaliation. This retaliation has pummeled U.S. farmers: Over 90 percent of U.S. agricultural exports to China are now subject to tariffs. Although the Trump administration has promised billions in tariff relief to farmers, many say it won’t be enough to offset the losses.

Putting aside China’s slapping of the U.S. with retaliation, possible concessions outlined by China don’t amount to much. They include offers of helping reduce the bilateral trade deficit – even though economists say they don’t matter – and other modest changes.

Moreover, Trump already gave up the ace in the hole that could have helped achieve so many of his goals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Because the TPP would have been the largest trade deal ever and included so many of its Pacific neighbors, China would most likely have eventually joined. That would have resulted in more market access for American companies in China and forced China to abide by rules essentially written by the U.S., the dominant economic superpower in the deal.

Alas, one of Trump’s first official acts as president was to withdraw from the TPP.

How to play a winning hand

Holding aces doesn’t ensure a win, of course. It’s more about making the right moves.

Trump’s best move now on China is to focus on cooperating with the EU and Japan. Uniting as a massive trading bloc is the best way to extract concessions from China.

And while early rumors of a possible truce in the trade war are encouraging, the EU and Japan will only take part if they believe Trump is serious about cooperating with them and negotiating with China. That belief has surely been dented by Trump’s negotiating tactics.

The U.S. doesn’t have to keep threatening to burn down the house to get a good deal. The U.S. only has to play the cards it’s been dealt, which is typically a winning hand.

The Conversation

James Lake does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Big Ten Championship Betting Odds and Prediction: Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Northwestern Wildcats

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A pair of unlikely teams will meet up in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night in Indianapolis. Ohio State capped off a crazy regular season by beating their rival Michigan to win the Big Ten East Division. Northwestern stunned everyone in the Big Ten West, going 8-1 in conference play to win the division. Ohio State has won their last five matchups against Northwestern, and they have beaten the Wildcats 30 out of 31 previous times.

The Buckeyes survived a few late-game scares and a blowout loss to Purdue this season but managed to rebound by winning their final four games of the season. Ohio State comes into this game ranked 6th in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings and will need a solid showing in this game and some help to crack the top four. Northwestern stumbled to a 1-3 start to the regular season but ended the season by winning seven of their final eight games. The Wildcats come into this game as a 14.5 point underdog against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

How Will Northwestern Score?

The biggest question coming into this game deals with the Northwestern offense. The Wildcats have struggled to score points all season long but will need an offensive explosion to keep up with Ohio State in this game. Northwestern averaged just 23.7 points per game during the regular season, and this won’t be enough scoring to win this game. Running back Isaiah Bowser has racked up 736 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season, and is the best offensive threat for the Wildcats. Quarterback Clayton Thorson will also need to have his best game in a Northwestern uniform to lead his team.

Linebacker Paddy Fisher leads a solid defensive unit for Northwestern. Fisher was named to the All Big Ten Defensive team and will be relied on a ton in this matchup. The Wildcats have the better defense in this game, as Northwestern gave up just 21.7 points per game this season. Northwestern gave up 238 passing yards per game this season, and their secondary will be tested in a big way by Ohio State.

Haskins Leads Explosive Attack For Buckeyes

Ohio State is one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and they have been clicking on all cylinders of late. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins set Big Ten records this season for passing yards (4,081) and passing touchdowns (42). The Buckeyes lit up a terrific Michigan defense with 62 points in the regular season finale and should be able to use their athleticism to rack up points against Northwestern. Running back J.K. Dobbins has run for 961 yards this season and gives the Buckeyes a solid 1-2 punch.

The Buckeyes defense finally showed up in the win against Michigan, but they still have to prove that they can consistently play at a high level. Ohio State allowed nearly 26 points per game this season, including 51 points to a bad Maryland squad two weeks ago. The Buckeyes are giving up over 181 rushing yards per game, and this could give Northwestern a chance to run the ball and keep the score low.

Buckeyes Win in a Blowout

Northwestern will need to play a near-perfect game to compete with Ohio State and win the Big Ten Championship. The Wildcats don’t feature an explosive offense and will need to rely on their defense and running game to keep this game close. Northwestern has had a great season, but they are dealing with a determined Ohio State in this game.

Ohio State has one of the most talented rosters in college football, and they put that on display against Michigan. The Buckeyes come into this game with a ton of momentum, and they should roll over an inferior opponent. Northwestern will play hard, but Ohio State will blow out the Wildcats on Saturday night. Bet Ohio State -14.5 over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.

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SEC Championship Betting Pick: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Georgia Bulldogs

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Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia plays host to the SEC Championship game this weekend. The 11-1 Georgia Bulldogs are taking on the 12-0 Alabama Crimson Tide in a matchup of what would be a College Football Playoff National Semifinal matchup if the season ended today. Alabama has thrashed everyone in their path so far and Georgia has also laid the beatdown on every team besides LSU this season. Both of these teams come into this game knowing that it is a “win and you’re in” situation. That means that we should see everything thrown out there by both teams in order for them to secure their spot in the playoff.

Alabama Has Some Weaknesses

This is probably going to be the most interesting game of the season from a matchup perspective for me. Everyone knows how Alabama can win this game, so let’s get into the Georgia side. This game WILL come down to Georgia’s offensive playcalling in my opinion. I believe that basically, every top team in college football is overrated relative to past years. Coming into this year, Alabama had 1 surefire top 20 draft pick and he is an offensive lineman. With all of the good tape Alabama has put out there all year, that has changed drastically. I am skeptical.

Alabama is talented, as always, but I see WAY more holes in this Alabama team than we have seen in the past. Every year by week 8, Alabama is “unbeatable” and they always have a 1-score game within the season. We need to stop this narrative that Alabama is unbeatable and acknowledge that the gap isn’t that drastic between Alabama and the other elite programs, but that Alabama’s athletes overpower 95% of the teams they play more than these other elite programs do. This allows them to be less vulnerable on a week-to-week basis. Georgia is one of those teams that should not get significantly outclassed by Alabama. Alabama has an edge, but that does not win you the game.

Georgia Can Compete at the Top

Georgia’s path, however, is not going to be simple for them to execute. In today’s football, great offense is scoring on great defense. Look at the national championship game scores, especially the games besides these two teams last year. Alabama’s great defense or Clemson’s great defense or Ohio State’s great defense gets scored on. Now, how much resistance they up matters, but at the end of the day, if the offense executes, they score points. Why Alabama looks so dominant in most games is the other teams’ playcalling style is easy for them to defend.

SEC football almost undoubtedly has the best athletes in the sport, but we have recently seen them struggle beside the elite programs in bowl games more than they used to. It’s all about playcalling. Smash-mouth football is easy to defend. A “pro-style offense” typically keeps everything in front of the defense. This is why Alabama can just completely shut down teams until they see a Cam Newton or a Deshaun Watson. Georgia does not have that extremely dynamic offense that gives Alabama fits, which is why they only mustered up 23 points with a team much more talented last year.

However, there are 2 factors that could change that. Alabama’s defense has more holes than a year ago and the secondary is NOT what it needs to be to face a top-end QB. The other is that maybe Georgia knows this is what they have to do to score. Although I doubt that they can just completely change the scheme in a week. I think Georgia will put up enough points to keep the game interesting because they do have the talent to do so, but I am not sure that they can score consistently.

How Will It Play Out?

The only other way Georgia can win this game is to turn over Alabama, which is something that I think is MORE viable than others from watching Tua all year. Alabama’s offensive line has just bullied teams and their receivers have been so much faster that Tua hasn’t really been challenged to make plays on a consistent basis. The biggest flaw in Tua’s game is his decision-making, but only good defenses can exploit that. In Alabama’s 2 worst offensive performances came Tua’s 2 interceptions. Both were under pressure and both were just horrible decisions. Last year, he also threw a bad pick vs. Georgia in that second half.

This leads me to the point that NO ONE was more hesitant to put Tua into the starter role than the guy that watches him throw against Alabama in practice all year. The scariest part to me is the int. That was thrown vs. LSU. If you have watched Alabama this year, their wide receivers are basically always open and they allow Tua to demonstrate his arm talent downfield constantly. @ LSU, Tua was pressured and just threw a deep ball up to a receiver, only to get picked because LSU actually had the secondary capable of staying with Alabama relatively well. Can we see Georgia do something similar? I don’t think its likely that Tua struggles given the talent around him, but I would be much less shocked to see a 3 pick game than most, and that is Georgia’s second path.

Alabama vs. Georgia Prediction

All that being said, I think that Georgia’s offense is too vanilla to put up enough points to beat Alabama, but I could see this game going a lot more ways than the average person. I’ll take Alabama 34 Georgia 24 and take the points (+13.5) with Georgia.

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Thursday Night Football Betting Pick: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Cowboys

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Since the beginning of week 2 of the NFL season, the New Orleans Saints have been the best team in football. After a 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first week of the season, the Saints have won 10 straight games, including a 31-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons last week. Along the way, they have been beating teams by an average of 16.1 points, and the scary thing about them is that as good as their offense has been, their defense has not played too bad either.

On Thursday night, the Saints (10-1) will be traveling to AT&T Stadium to take on the Dallas Cowboys (6-5). For the Cowboys, after a slow start to the season, they have turned it around a bit as of late having won 3 games in a row including a 31-23 win over the Redskins last week. The two will square off Thursday with kickoff scheduled for 8:20 pm ET.

The point spread comes in with the New Orleans Saints being 7.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under on total points scored is set at 53 points.

By The Numbers

Both of these teams have pretty good defenses, with both ranking in the top half of the league. For the Cowboys, they rank 7th in total yards allowed allowing opponents an average of 331.1 yards per game. For the Saints, they come in at 15th, allowing 358.9. In terms of average points allowed, the Cowboys rank 3rd with 19.4 points while the Saints remain at 15th allowing 23.3.

Offense is a whole different story, though. The Saints offense has been electric, gaining an average of 416.6 yards per game (good for 5th in the NFL) while being the top-ranked scoring offense at 37.2 points per game. For the Cowboys, this is where they have struggled. They rank 23rd in points scored per game (21.3) while ranking 25th in yards per game (334).

Saints Look To Keep Gas Pedal Down

While the division may be well in hand, the Saints would love nothing more than to keep their hot streak going as the playoffs approach. Quarterback Drew Brees has led their highflying offense. The future hall of famer has thrown for 3,135 yards with 29 touchdowns versus only 2 interceptions. Also amazing is how well the offensive line has played given that he has only been sacked 10 times this season. His biggest weapons on the receiving end have been Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Thomas has gone for 1,080 yards and 8 touchdowns on 86 receptions while Kamara has gone for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns on 57 receptions.

Speaking of Kamara, he leads a two-headed monster in the backfield alongside Mark Ingram. On the season, Kamara has rushed for 706 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ingram, who missed the first four games of the season, has rushed for 440 yards and 4 touchdowns. The one-two punch, in addition to the dynamic passing game, make the Saints hard to stop.

Defensively, the Saints are led by Demario Davis (54 tackles), Cameron Jordan (8 sacks), and Chris Banjo and Marcus Williams with 2 interceptions apiece.

Cowboys Looking For Four In A Row

It has been amazing what a single wide receiver has done to the offense. While the Cowboys were blasted for giving up a first round pick for wide receiver Amari Cooper, the early returns have been good. For the entire season, including his time with the Raiders, Cooper has gone for 629 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has certainly given Dak Prescott a legitimate number one after the departure of Dez Bryant in the offseason. Speaking of Prescott, he has gone for 2,427 yards, 13 touchdowns and 5 interceptions this year. The biggest concern, though, are the sacks. He has been sacked a whopping 38 times this year. Prescott has also rushed for 279 yards and 5 touchdowns.

The leading rusher for the Cowboys is Ezekiel Elliott. On the season, he has rushed for 1,074 yards and 6 touchdowns on 217 carries. He has also gone for 363 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns through the air.

The defensive leaders for the Cowboys are Leighton Vander Esch (71 tackles and 2 interceptions), Demarcus Lawrence (8.5 sacks) and Xavier Woods, who has also had 2 interceptions.

Cowboys Can’t Slow Saints Down

Until the Saints show that they can be slowed down, I just can’t bet against them at this point. Even against a decent Dallas defense, I think the Saints are going to put up points in a hurry. They just have too many ways to beat you and I don’t think the Cowboys offense will be able to keep up. 7.5 points is a lot to spot any team in the NFL, but for my money, that is exactly what I would do. Take the Saints at -7.5.

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Lottery Director: Countdown Ticking To Mobile In West Virginia Sports Betting

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Mobile wagering soon will arrive for West Virginia sports betting, according to the state’s lottery director.

John Myers told the state’s lottery commission Thursday that two casinos owned by Delaware North soon will offer mobile. Both Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island will launch retail and mobile simultaneously, according to Myers.

“We’ve completed testing Delaware North, which includes both Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island casinos on Nov. 19. Both of those locations will have the mobile app when they begin receiving wagers,” Myers said, according to WV News.

West Virginia sports betting landscape today

West Virginia sports betting launched just before the start of football season in September. Hollywood Casino came out of the gate first, followed soon after by FanDuel Sportsbook at the Greenbrier.

Those two casinos held the market to themselves for more than two months before Mountaineer Casino jumped in Nov. 21. The addition of Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island would fill out the five sports betting licenses available for West Virginia sports betting. Casinos pay a $100,000 license fee to offer legal sports betting.

Hollywood, the Greenbrier, and Mountaineer do not offer mobile sports betting. Myers told the commission Thursday that none of the three has completed required mobile testing by the state.

Revenue limited by slow rollout in West Virginia

With only two open sportsbooks through the first two-thirds of NFL and college football, revenue returns appear paltry thus far. Through the initial two weeks of November, retail-only West Virginia sports betting provided the following returns:

  • Handle: $22,406,637
  • Revenue: $2,732,541
  • Taxes: $273,254

At that pace, West Virginia sports betting would fall far short of the $5.5 million in tax revenue forecasted before launch. The current trend would produce less than a quarter of the expected amount.

Mobile should change the game quickly in WV

That revenue forecast should brighten considerably when the Delaware North properties come online. Miomni will power the sportsbooks at both casinos.

New Jersey‘s sports betting rollout shows the template for mobile’s effect. It took only a couple of months for mobile handle to eclipse retail. In October, $175 million of New Jersey sports betting happened via online/mobile. That accounts for roughly two-thirds of all wagers taken that month in the Garden State.

Mardi Gras and Wheeling Island originally targeted October for launch, but the plan to start retail and mobile simultaneously slowed rollout.

“We’re working toward opening the sportsbooks as efficiently as possible while ensuring we deliver the customer experience that our patrons deserve,” said Luisa Woods, Delaware North vice president of marketing for gaming, last month.

The post Lottery Director: Countdown Ticking To Mobile In West Virginia Sports Betting appeared first on Legal Sports Report.

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