On the heels of Senator John McCain’s recent comments welcoming discussions regarding legalization of sports gambling, I wanted to share my thoughts. The time has come for change and it’s good to see a policy influencer willing to take on that challenge despite major opposition from sports leagues not named the NBA.
Laws are put in place as regulatory measures, living breathing doctrine meant to regulate actions of individuals rather than provide a moral compass. On January 1, 1993 the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was enacted to prevent people from wagering on college and professional athletics. That bill has since become our generation’s equivalent of prohibition. PASPA restricts all but a handful of states from legalizing sports gambling, yet in a day and age where all it takes is a credit card, internet connection, and a cell phone to place a bet, it’s time to repeal the bill in favor of proper sports wagering legalization complete with regulations creating transparency.
“We need a debate in Congress. We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue (sports gambling) so we can build consensus,” McCain said recently when speaking with ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC’s Rick Klein.
Sports betting is big business. Back in 1999 the Nevada Gaming Control Board reported that $2.471 billion was wagered across all sports for the calendar year. The “Big Game” represented $75.99 Million, just over 3% of statewide betting handle. To place that number in perspective, the GCB reported statewide sports betting volume of $3.620 Billion in 2013 (46.5% increase over calendar year ’99) and a Big Game handle that swelled to $98.9 million, a growth rate of 30.2% in fourteen years. As if that figure wasn’t compelling enough evidence to support the exponential growth of just the legalized wagering occurring in Nevada, bettors blew through that 2103 figure during last year’s game, eclipsing the century mark for the first time generating $119 million in statewide betting handle. These figures are merely the tip of the wagering iceberg when the documented legal handle is believed to represent less than 1% of total moneys wagered. Estimates for illegal sports gambling taking place across the country range from the low end of $380 billion to upwards of $500 billion. Suffice to say, the numbers are staggering even if coming up with an absolute figure is impossible.
Repealing PASPA in favor of a modernized bill regulating nationalized sports gambling controlled by the federal government creates the kind of consumer protection and transparency consistent with other forms of gambling. From state lotteries to blackjack to keno, other types of gambling are subject to minimums of internal control standards. The notion that sports gambling is somehow more morally hazardous or nefarious is an antiquated thought process. Those that want to bet on sporting events, illegal or not, will always seek channels to do so like drinkers during prohibition. With just a simple credit card sports bettors can put their wagering dollars to work for them within the hour. Recognizing PASPA has outlived its shelf life forces legislators to take the necessary steps forward in pushing for national legalization.
Government involvement in legalized sports wagering needs to take what’s currently the wild wild west and bring it under proper control a little bit at a time. From extensive discussions I’ve had with Kenny White, former owner and CEO of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, regulating sports gambling would allow legal bookmakers to track every single wager placed. Whether customers were wagering online, over the phone, or at the counter, all wagers would require identification. White has worked with organizations both here in the States and abroad that supply betting data to professional and amateur sports leagues. Real time data is available before games kickoff/tip-off allowing security to keep close track of games that could potentially be in question. Creating this transparency allows proper authorities to track not only the path of currency used to gamble, but the individual involved in the wager itself. White continued articulating a sentiment shared by most members of the sports gambling community: regulation will bring a very skilled base game from the underground to above ground. We can see so much better in sunlight than darkness.
The most common argument currently being made against legalization (even if entirely unfounded) is that gambling impacts the integrity of the game. My opinion may not resonate with the masses but when you hear current commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver and former commissioner, David Stern, openly address the topic of wide spread sports gambling it illustrates the changing perspective on the issue. The irony in their stance is that the NBA is the only major sports organization in this country to go through a major point shaving scandal in the last ten years, yet current and previous heads of the league feel embracing gambling is the only logical step moving forward. In a sports landscape currently littered with concussion lawsuits, PED scandals, rampant off field sexual misconduct, and other widespread social transgressions, legalization of sports gambling for all major sports should be the least of their integrity concerns. Understanding the value of a transparent, regulated, and policed sports gambling environment in this country is not lost on Silver, Stern, and apparently now McCain. If the senator can see the value in an open dialogue on the topic we can only hope regulators still seeking to enforce PASPA they quickly realize the bill has long overstayed its welcome.