NBA push to legalize sports betting no slam-dunk in Congress

NBA push to legalize sports betting no slam-dunk in Congress
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s call to legalize sports betting faces a difficult path forward in Congress, where previous attempts to expand gambling allowances have stalled in recent years.

Silver, who has maintained a high profile since taking the Association’s helm in February, penned an Op-Ed published Thursday in the pages of The New York Times urging lawmakers to end the prohibition against wagering on games.

“Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards,” Silver wrote.

The missive surprised many, since Silver’s proposal appeared to contradict pro-basketball’s long-held official position on the issue.

Already some in Congress are voicing opposition, either on grounds that sports betting on sports could undermine the integrity of the game, or because of morale objections to gambling.

Legalizing sports betting would only feed the “obsessive compulsive” behavior of some fans, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) said Friday

“I don’t think ever expanding gambling is a good thing,” said Thompson, who was a high school wrestler.  “You see ruined lives and ruined families.”

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) expressed similar concerns about any effort to legalize sports gambling.

While Roe doesn’t have a problem with a “little friendly bet,” he said organized gambling “is just encouraging bad behavior."

But Silver and gambling proponents say regulating sports betting would shed some light on an estimated $400 billion in illegal sports bets placed each year.

"There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events,” Silver wrote.

Silver may also be facing an uphill battle in the professional sports world, as well, where he is one of the few to endorse sports gambling.
"It may, in effect, change the atmosphere of stadiums and arenas,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on CNN Friday "Do you want people at football and basketball games rooting for the spread, or rooting for their favorite team?”

Along with the NBA, the NFL, and other professional sports leagues have traditionally opposed sports gambling.

Silver argues that regulating gambling could ensure bets are monitored to prevent games from being fixed and require bookies to be licensed so they don’t scam gamblers.

Rules could also be set up to verify minimum-age requirements, and block people with gambling problems, he added.

This would help protect consumers from black market bookies who could cheat them out of winnings and harass them for lost bets, proponents argue.

“Despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread,” he added. "It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight.”

The American Gaming Association, which represents the casino industry, quickly jumped into the mix, pledging to work with the NBA on regulations the group says could help thwart illegal gambling.

Still, Republicans have proven to be a tough sell in recent years, attacking efforts to expand online gambling.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced legislation in March to ban most forms of online gambling.

Their bill would rollback a decision by the Department of Justice in 2011 to allow online gambling, except sports betting, which is still banned.

“To have gaming on every smartphone on the country, I just think it’s a bad idea," Chaffetz said in March.

Graham, along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), wrote a letter to the Justice Department in July asking the agency to reinstate the online gambling ban.

“We must act before we find virtual casinos making gambling pervasive in our society, invading living rooms, bedrooms, and dorm rooms across the country; a result we know the DOJ does not want to see,” the wrote.

Efforts to expand legalized gambling have gained more traction in the states, where both Democratic and Republican governors have shown support for initiatives that represent a potential boon in tax revenue.