Change is on its way. A “rational approach” to sports betting’s future may already be taking shape. People have been talking, I’m told, which is all that’s ever been required for the most interesting of changes to become apparent.
American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman was one of the first to speak of the benefits of a “rational approach” when he spoke in December of the need for conversations – some of them behind the scenes – that were already taking place.
The National Football League’s reaction just a few years ago to any talk about co-existing peacefully in the same world with sports betting was a scornful “no, we can’t have that” kind of response. It was an attitude that suggested sports betting was the moral equivalent of the black plague.
The NFL and New Jersey have been in federal court for a couple years now as the state presses its hope of opening sportsbooks in Atlantic City. Perhaps that’s when the seeds of fresh attitudes were planted as the two sides growled and grumbled.
And then, of course, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver actually said the words at some point. “I think sports betting is inevitable.” It’s just a matter of the time it takes to develop acceptable regulations was the way he put it.
Look at what happened as daily fantasy sports betting came along and a number of NFL teams decided they wanted some of the revenue it seemed to promise. But was it gambling or was it a skill-based pastime?
It does not really matter. Legality will be decided by lawmakers across the country in states where influential interests have decided daily fantasy sports is the closest they can come for the moment to Nevada-style sports betting. And all the revenue it might produce could be put to good use in states where there is never enough to satisfy all budget needs.
The best thing that could happen now for those who want to see wide spread sports betting legalized would be for all the arguing and courtroom encounters involving fantasy sports to continue, fueling discussions leading to the moment when some goal-oriented dealmaker in the right place at the right time says something like, “Maybe the time has come to repeal PASPA.”
And that federal barrier known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act will, like the Berlin Wall, crumble.
Events and the talk behind them seem to point toward the likelihood of something like this eventually.
The NFL and other professional sports leagues continue their opposition to legal wagering for the moment but in the meantime, the NFL holds a couple games a year in London where there are betting shops on every other corner.
The AGA put out a commentary of sorts, saying the NFL should be congratulated on its willingness to develop some new thinking and even play some games each year in a city (London) where sports betting has long been a favorite pastime.
The same commentary from the Association even made a passing reference to thoughts about putting an NFL team in London. With a number of NFL teams making partnership deals with the biggest DFS companies, it’s kind of silly to act like sports betting and professional sports don’t go well together.
The problem is illegal wagering, which is many times larger than the figures generated each year at Nevada’s legal books. It’s the distorted betting patterns at legal books that makes it possible to spot the impact of illegal action. That became apparent during the recent Australian Open when stories in some foreign publications alleged match rigging efforts by illegal interests.
But the possibilities for change picked up momentum recently with Gov. Brian Sandoval saying he wanted to see the state’s Gaming Advisory Committee weigh in on daily fantasy sports betting. This would encourage the kind of conversation that benefits a “rational approach” to sports betting’s future.
But the event that got everyone’s attention was last week’s disclosure that Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson had met with owners of the Oakland Raiders about the team becoming a primary tenant in a 65,000-seat domed stadium Adelson wants to build.
The first reaction of many locals was, great! But what is the NFL going to say about that?
For years it has been difficult to put Las Vegas and NFL in the same sentence without someone wincing.
But what the League eventually said in a reaction straight from NFL Central was that no city should be automatically ruled out when it comes to considering franchise locations.
All this talk on or off the record, the conversations the AGA’s Freeman referenced, maybe they are making a difference.
Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].