Supporters of legalizing the multibillion-dollar sports betting marketplace are ramping up efforts to enshrine policy changes nationwide.
The American Gaming Association (AGA), a trade group that represents casinos and others in the gaming industry, has already been rallying support among state policymakers and officials. Now it’s bringing that campaign to Capitol Hill in full force.
“We’re on the Hill daily, in the House and the Senate, and we’ve identified people who could be champions of legislation when the time comes,” AGA CEO Geoff Freeman told reporters on Tuesday.
“There will be some unlikely allies, some unusual bedfellows on this issue,” he said. “Lawmakers who have looked at the issue in the past, and now realize we are in a different time than 1992.”
The debate centers on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a law signed in 1992 that makes wagering or betting on sports illegal in the United States.
Four states — Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware — have legalized betting because they had set up sports gambling prior to the law, and therefore were exempted.
Earlier this month, the AGA launched the American Sports Betting Coalition, which brings together supportive groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Tim Murphy, a former FBI deputy director, is also pushing for a repeal of PASPA.
Proponents of national legalization say that a regulated sports betting industry would bring in billions of dollars in revenue for states and municipalities. Nine states, including New Jersey, have introduced legislation related to the topic.
Experts estimate that anywhere from $80 billion to $100 billion is already spent on sports gambling in the United States — mostly illegally. The real number likely vastly exceeds that amount.
Sports leagues are the primary opponents to legalization, saying it would hurt the “integrity of the game” and open the door to match fixing.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court thrust the gambling debate into the spotlight by taking up a sports betting case that pits New Jersey against professional and collegiate sports leagues.
New Jersey attempted to create a law allowing the operation of sports books in the state and was sued by the NCAA, the NFL and other sports leagues. The high court declined to take a similar lawsuit years earlier, so the decision to take the case is significant.
“Today’s decision from the Supreme Court is good impetus for Congress to look at PASPA and how it’s failed,” Sara Slane, the senior vice president of public affairs for the AGA, told The Hill.
Freeman said during a Tuesday call with reporters that the case would be the “nail in the coffin” of the ’92 ban.
“We’ve said this is an issue that President Trump will have on his desk in his first term in office, and this only furthers the likelihood of that,” he said.
The AGA has not yet proposed any specifics for legislation, Freeman says, because he wants to have all the supporters
unified and on board — including sports leagues.
“If we bring a workable solution to Capitol Hill” that includes support from the gaming industry, law enforcement, the leagues and public officials, Congress will be more likely to take it up, he said.
Although cracks are starting to form in the opposition, consensus on legalization might prove hard to find.
Sports leagues fiercely lobbied for PASPA and have been vocally opposed to any kind of legalization.
“The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community,” the organization says in a section of its website devoted to sports betting.
Some of the groups in favor of sports betting reject that argument.
“The way we see it, it’s not government responsibility to protect the reputation of sports leagues,” said Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The NFL has opened the door to a possible change in its stance on betting, though Commissioner Rodger Goodell remains staunchly opposed.
“I think we still strongly oppose [among ownership] legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said at a news conference in April. “The integrity of our game is No. 1. We will not compromise on that.”
He did concede, however, that he would not ask regulators to stop sports books from taking bets on NFL games “in large part because you have the regulatory environment there, which actually could be beneficial in this case.”
The NBA is the outlier among the leagues, as Commissioner Adam Silver has been calling for regulated sports gambling since 2014. Professional baseball could be following suit, with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred saying this year that the organization would be rethinking its position.
Both of those organizations are part of the lawsuit against New Jersey, which is focused on a law signed by Gov. Chris Christie (R) in 2012. Bud Selig, who led the MLB at the time, called sports betting “the deadliest of all things that can happen” to sports.
MLB and the NBA hold a financial stake in fantasy sports companies FanDuel and DraftKings — which they do not view as gambling — and 28 NFL teams have sponsorships with fantasy sports companies.
Leagues are also investing in companies in the sports betting industry, including companies that track and identify suspicious activity, analyze fantasy and traditional sports wagering and provide the betting odds on a given wager to bookmakers.
Advocates for repealing the gambling prohibition say that making the industry legal and regulated would actually make it easier to root out match fixing because all betting information would be available.
In the United States, proponents say, fraud is actually more likely to occur with the ban on betting. If a bookkeeper suspects that something may be off, they have to keep quiet.
“What they’re doing is illegal, so they can’t tell authorities about it,” Minton said.
Teams in various leagues fought any attempt to move franchises to Las Vegas because any proposed stadium would be in close proximity to bookies. Yet the NFL and the NHL will now have a team there.
Advocates continue to press on, but they aren’t in a rush to get anything through.
“It’s a behemoth of an issue that people are really taking their time, and we’re being very smart and strategic and deliberate,” Slane said.