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Ray Lesniak is my hero.

If you’ve ever made a bet on a sporting event, he should be your hero too.

Who is Ray Lesniak?

He is the former state senator from New Jersey who helped clear the path for the overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and ultimately allowed legalized sports betting in the U.S. to exist beyond Nevada, Delaware and Oregon.

But all the hard work is being challenged yet again, this time by a couple of senators who probably have never made a bet on a game in their lives.

Last Wednesday, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced they would introduce a bill – the “Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018” – that would call for federal oversight for legalized sports betting. States would have to work with the Department of Justice in order to do business.

I would have found it laughable that the Senate’s “Odd Couple” would team up for a piece of legislation that neither would be likely to implement in their daily lives if it weren’t so dangerous.

Hatch represents a state that has no form of legalized gambling whatsoever. Utahns who want to legally gamble have to drive to Nevada, which, incidentally, they do.

If you don’t believe me, read Dave Dye’s story from last week in Gaming Today on the sports books in Mesquite.

Maybe Hatch is worried about all those bookies lurking near the Jazz’s arena or down the street at the University of Utah. My guess is the state legislature in Salt Lake City isn’t prepared to introduce a sports betting bill for Utah anytime soon.

So what’s the real driving force behind this bill of Schumer’s and Hatch’s?

They claim it’s about regulation. I think it’s a different “R” word – Revenue.

They see what’s going on in New Jersey, where the handle is approaching $1 billion since the Garden State began accepting sports bets in July. They see the money for the states that sports betting is generating and will have the potential to prop up programs that are operating in the red.

In Kentucky, proponents of sports betting claim it could help reduce or eliminate that state’s $5 billion deficit from its pension program. That would do a lot of good for a lot of people who are going to be counting on that money when they retire.

Other states see the same thing. In one state, the added revenue from sports betting could help improve the quality of education and pay teachers more. In another state, it could improve basic services, 

But by providing federal oversight, the states would have to clear things through Washington before proceeding. The pro sports leagues and the NCAA would likely get a cut too, something they have been trumpeting since PASPA got overturned in May by the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s no wonder the NFL endorses the bill.

Obviously, that’s not going to sit well with the states, particularly Nevada, which has been booking legal sports bets going back to the 1950s and have been in battles with the feds over the decades when it came to taxes. There’s no way Nevada is going to accept federal intervention over a business that is highly regulated with a proven track record of integrity and success. Nevada Rep. Dina Titus said as much when she talked to reporters last week.

“This bill undermines Nevada’s expertise and experience in establishing a successful, regulated sports betting market,” Titus said. “It would inject uncertainty into an established and regulated industry, weaken Nevada’s ability to promptly adapt to maintain its gold standard, and risk causing bettors and operators to leave the regulated market.

“As I have said before, we should be cautious not to reinvent the wheel or derail what’s working, and I fear this legislation is a step in that direction. I will continue to work to ensure that those in Congress know that gaming is an important Nevada issue, and that our concerns must be taken into account.”

Sara Slane, the vice president of the American Gaming Association, said: “This bill is the epitome of a solution in search of a problem, representing an unprecedented and inappropriate expansion of federal involvement in the gaming industry, which is currently one of the most strictly regulated in the country.

“Across the country, nearly 4,000 dedicated public servants already regulate all forms of gaming, including sports wagering, with more than $500 million committed to ensuring the integrity of commercial casinos’ operations and $822 million spent on regulation of tribal gaming in 2015 alone. These state and tribal regulators have decades of experience effectively overseeing gaming operations within their jurisdictions.”

In other words, “Back off!”

Will the Schumer-Hatch bill pass? I’d say it’s a long shot given the states’ abhorrence for having Washington dictate policy, not to mention the timing. The current Congress wraps up in a few days, Hatch is retiring and this bill isn’t something you just ram through. This would provoke a lot of debate, assuming it ever reaches the floor.

Remember, those who would ultimately vote for this piece of legislation will eventually be up for re-election. It might be a sticking issue in their attempt to retain their seat.

Of course, maybe they’ll listen to their constituents and put their focus on where it should be – like improving the quality of life for all Americans and making sure we stay safe.

You know, the things they were elected to do.

However, I’ll give Ray Lesniak the last word here.

“But the less the federal government interferes with our gaming and sports betting, the better it is for us,” he said. “I wish they would just stay out of our business.”

Amen, brother.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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