Legalize sports betting it's past time

March 01, 2016 3:00 AM
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Sports book at the M Las VegasThere is a tendency to use euphemisms when talking about gambling.

Being in the business for nearly 50 years, I have seen almost everything, but lately some have been trying to say some activities are not gambling when they clearly are. I like to call a spade a spade.

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is gambling, and in reality there is about as much skill involved as there is in a lottery. When nine things have to line up just right for you to win, it’s no different than a parlay or lottery.

You can study all you want and call it skill if that makes regulators and the major sports leagues feel better, but it is still gambling. And if DFS is going to be legalized, then all sports betting should be legal.

I’m going to come right out and say it: The time has come to legalize sports betting. If skill is going to be the standard by which you legalize an activity, I can confidently state that when sports betting is done properly, it has more skill than DFS.

An article from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) called “Should Sports Gambling Be Legal?” begins with the following lines that capture the essence of the debate:

“Few things are as American as laying down a few dollars on a football game. But oddly enough, sports gambling is illegal in all but four states – Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.”

Why is that?

In 1992 the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), also known as the Bradley Act, was passed and outlawed sports betting nationwide with a few exceptions for the licensed sports pools in Nevada and the sports lotteries conducted in Oregon, Delaware and Montana.

Congress provided one year from the act’s effective date of January 1, 1993 for states which operated licensed casino gaming for the previous 10 years to pass laws permitting sports wagering.

In February 2013, the New Yorker ran a piece called “A Call to Action” by James Surowiecki about New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting. He starts the article by stating the obvious: billions of dollars are being wagered in states where sports gambling is against the law.

Surowiecki then goes on to detail New Jersey’s battle with the federal government and major professional sports leagues to change. The first step was New Jersey voters approving an amendment to the state constitution legalizing sports betting in 2011.

In his article, Surowiecki quotes I. Nelson Rose, an expert on gambling law at Whittier Law School, describing the law as arbitrary. “It’s as if in 1929 Congress had decreed that a dozen states would be allowed to have sound in the their movie theatres and all the other states would only be allowed to show silent films,” Rose says.

Surowiecki notes that though “all the states except Utah and Hawaii have commercial gambling in some form,” sports betting which involves more skill than a lottery, is restricted to only four states.

A major obstacle to the legalization of sports betting is that the major professional sports leagues state that wagering on sports harms their brands while at the same endorsing daily fantasy sports. It seems they want it both ways, but I believe the tide is turning.

In November 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote a New York Times op-ed called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” He calls a spade a spade and acknowledges that sports betting is “a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight.”

We all know what is going on. As Silver states, though “there is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States…some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.”

Silver continues, “Times have changes since PAPSA was enacted. Gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

The time is now to legalize sports betting. And the same arguments can be used to legalize online gambling. With proper regulation and consumer protections, Americans can be free to spend their entertainment dollars as they choose.

In August 2015 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia denied New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting saying it violated the PASPA, which came as no surprise. What did surprise me, however, was New Jersey’s tenacity.

On February 17 New Jersey appealed the decision of a three-judge panel and argued its case to the full court. They face formidable foes—the professional sports leagues—but I think we will see sports betting legalized throughout the country.

I never thought I’d live to see the day.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert, best known for inventing the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has over 30 years experience in the gaming industry and is co-founder of Crown Digital Games. Twitter: @thechipburnerEmail: robertturner@gamingtoday.com.