Mellman: The coming revolution in sports gambling

Mellman: The coming revolution in sports gambling
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Sports fans love to bet.

Each year Americans wager over $150 billion on sporting events.

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Our research for the American Gaming Association found more than a quarter of those who planned to watch the Super Bowl in 2016 had, or intended to, place a bet on the game. An even larger 41 percent had placed some kind of sports bet in the past year.

In a more recent project we found about 53 million adults participated in a betting pool last year, spending nearly $18 billion on them.

March Madness is one of the most popular bases of pools. In the past year, approximately 24 million people filled out nearly 60 million pool entries, spending nearly $3 billion on entry fees for them.

Participants say they enter pools most importantly because pools “make it more fun to watch sports and follow the teams and players that you like.” Nearly two-thirds identify that as at least a “very important” reason to participate.

Eighty-six percent of Super Bowl viewers say they are more likely to watch that game if they bet on it, 74 percent say they follow teams and players more closely if they place a bet and 75 percent say betting made the game more fun and enjoyable to watch.

The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of this “fun” has been illegal under a federal law invalidated by the Supreme Court Monday.

Americans are anxious to let states decide for themselves whether to allow sports betting.

Two-thirds (66 percent) of Super Bowl viewers favor changing federal law to enable each individual state to decide whether or not to allow sports betting in their own state. Only 25 percent are opposed.

Not only do sports bettors favor legalizing their activity, but nearly six in ten of those who did not place a wager in the previous year favor the change, while only 30 percent oppose it.

Support also crosses party lines, with 67 percent of Democrats joining 67 percent of independents and 65 percent of Republicans – solid, and rare, bipartisan support for changing current law.

The critique has centered on concern that betting would impair the integrity of the sporting events themselves.

The public rejects this view.  Sixty-five percent believe legal, regulated betting on sporting events would either have no effect on game outcomes (34 percent) or strengthen the integrity of games because of stronger law enforcement and monitoring of betting activity (31 percent).

Because sports betting is now illegal, it is unregulated. Odds and rules are not at all transparent. If your bookie fails to pay out your winnings, you have no recourse, legal or otherwise.

Of course, bookies have no legal recourse if bettors don’t pay up, either. Bookies, many of whom are associated with organized crime, therefore turn to other means to collect bad debts by gamblers — intimidation, threats and actual physical violence.

Those who make money on illegal sports betting pay little or no taxes on their ill-gotten gains.

Legalizing sports betting would put the criminals out of business while creating a new stream of tax revenues. A study by Oxford Economics projected that tax revenues generated from legalized sports betting would range between $4.8 billion and $5.3 billion.

The economic activity would support some 150,000 jobs.

The federal prohibition on sports betting has been a failure, just like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. Neither stopped the activity they intended to prohibit and both created large criminal enterprises dedicated to evading the law, even while millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens were forced into illegal markets.

Monday’s Supreme Court decision only considered the constitutionality of the issue. But Americans recognize that the benefits of legalized sports betting far outweigh the costs.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.