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Professional Sports Leagues And Their Stance On Legal Sports Betting

Book Of LawThe United States is one of the strictest countries in the world when it comes to gambling laws. Out of the entire gambling spectrum, sports betting has undoubtedly had the most setbacks. Discrepancies in federal/state laws, failed legislative attempts, and a tug-of-war with the major domestic sports leagues has left the industry stagnant. However, the latter is the most frustrating part of the ordeal, because the government would be more inclined to lift the ban on sports betting if the leagues rallied behind it.

Even more frustrating - some of the leagues’ representatives have stated on record that they would welcome a regulated sports betting industry. So why hasn’t sports betting been legalized yet? Well, in terms of the US sports leagues, words have failed to transition into actions, pigeonholing the market.

Sports betting is a billion-dollar industry and millions of Americans participate in some form of sports betting annually, whether through legally sanctioned offshore sportsbooks or illegal means. No matter the numbers, there is no denying that the US sports leagues have the power to make a significant impact in the case for sports gambling legislation, they will just need to first get over themselves to make that happen.

NBA Draws Backcourt Violation On Sports Betting Stance

The NBA was the first major league to come out in support of legal sports betting in the United States. In 2014, Commissioner Adam Silver penned an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a change in sports betting laws. Silver notes his organization’s own hypocrisy by saying the NBA has opposed sports gambling for over two decades. However, he also addresses the changing gambling landscape and how there seems to be more widespread acceptance of gambling nationwide.

Silver is aware of how much money is already spent within the industry and wants Congress to implement strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards. Some of his suggestions include “mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gambling.”

While all this sounds very nice, Silver has yet to act upon any of his writings. The main irony of his piece is that he mentions the NJ sports betting case—where NJ tried to pass a law authorizing sports betting that was met by a lawsuit from the major sports leagues, including the NBA—yet the NBA is still involved with the case. If Silver were serious about sports betting reform, he should pull the league out of the lawsuit and make a stance on sports betting that other leagues can follow through on.

NFL Commissioner Flagged For Inconsistencies

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is arguably one of the most hated figures in American sports. Goodell seems to be all over the place regarding league issues like sports betting, drug use and code of conduct violations, and fans are tired of his back-and-forth. Goodell has been the most vehement opponent of legalizing sports betting, citing concerns over the integrity of the game as his main issue. However, a regulated sports betting market would provide more transparency between bettors and sportsbooks, altogether creating a better environment.

The league does not seem to have a problem with Daily Fantasy Sports operators like DraftKings and FanDuel. There are franchises in the NFL that have business partnerships with the two DFS providers. NFL owners also unanimously approved the Oakland Raiders relocating to Las Vegas, the one place in the country where single-game sports betting is legal. The Raiders are set to get a brand new stadium that could technically play host to mobile sports betting—and the NFL would have a hard time doing anything about it. The fact that the NFL is launching a franchise in the sports betting capital of the country while still not embracing sports gambling is the epitome of hypocrisy.

Goodell is remaining stubborn in his opposition to regulated sports betting, but the NJ sports betting case could push the NFL towards legalization. Couple in the potential business partnerships between the Raiders organization and Las Vegas casinos and you have a recipe for some administrative changes. Some believe Goodell is just too stuck in to give up on his dated stance on sports betting, but if things keep moving in the direction they are, and if New Jersey wins their lawsuit, he will have no choice but to sing a different tune.

Major League Baseball Waiting In Dugout

The MLB has been the second-most vocal organization regarding sports betting legalization. Commissioner Rob Manfred has said on record that his league is “reexamining” their stance on sports betting. Manfred believes a regulated sports betting framework will help boost fan engagement and we may as well regulate the market because it already exists.

However, Manfred is just as guilty as the NBA in that his league’s presence in the NJ sports betting lawsuit contradicts their supposed stance on the issue. Manfred said he would meet with each individual MLB team owner to discuss the possibility of a sports betting framework. With US sports betting, progress is progress, so it is hard to be mad at a commissioner for stating on record he would be looking at the issue. The inactivity after so much time is what complicates things. If Manfred and Silver could join forces, other leagues would likely follow suit.

NHL Putting Issue On Ice

The NHL has been the quietest regarding sports gambling. They have made public statements in the past about it being bad for sports, but the NHL joins the NFL is launching a franchise in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights are a new franchise set to represent Sin City in the upcoming season. The same situation applies to the NHL as does the NFL. Sports betting is legal in Nevada, meaning residents and visitors will be able to walk into brick-and-mortar sportsbooks to place bets on games. They could also place bets on their mobile devices (most casinos have downloadable apps).

While the NHL and other leagues have a lot of sway with sports betting, they have no legal power, so they would not be able to stop wagers from being placed. The National Hockey League’s involvement with the NJ sports betting case marks their stance, but they too may be forced to adopt a new philosophy in the coming months.

Breaking News - NCAA Still Greedy

Aside from the NFL, the NCAA has been the most outspoken against sports betting. This is not surprising coming from an organization that makes millions of college athletes without paying back a dime to them. The NCAA has actually gone so far as to purposefully not host any tournaments in the state of Oregon, one of four exempted from PASPA, to force the state to halt their Sports Action betting system.

This is a clear demonstration of the power these sports leagues have on the market. You can find NCAA betting lines in most legal sportsbooks, so again, the market is there. It is almost surprising that the NCAA wouldn’t try to weasel their way into getting some revenue off the billion-dollar industry. The NCAA will certainly not make any advancements unless forced to do so.

All Eyes On New Jersey

UPDATE 5/14/2018:  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act has been deemed unconstitutional and is therefore repealed.  The ban on state-regulated sports betting has been lifted and individual states are now free to pass legislation to legalize or prohibit sports gambling within their borders.  This also changes the application of the Federal Wire Act which now only prohibits interstate wagering, or in other words, betting across state lines.  How this will affect those states who have entered into interstate gambling compacts is unclear at this time.

This article has alluded to the NJ sports betting case several times, but that is because it is of pressing importance. If New Jersey wins the case, PASPA will likely be repealed and will allow other states the opportunity to introduce legal sports betting. The case has moved through the federal court system all the way up to the Supreme Court. The fact that SCOTUS took the case on (even after the acting Solicitor General advised not to) is a positive sign for New Jersey.

Proceedings are expected to formally begin later this year. It seems all the major leagues are waiting to see how the case unfolds before jumping over to the pro-sports betting bandwagon. This approach is a waste of time and tax dollars, especially if the court rules in favor of NJ, but such is the way of American politics—delaying the inevitable. The case is expected to carry into 2018, but if New Jersey wins, expect a swift wave of sports gambling legislation as many US states will attempt to legalize sports betting.

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