Sports betting industry needs to be proactive

October 20, 2015 3:09 AM
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Sports betting industry should be proactiveNevada’s sports wagering business would benefit from an extended think tank session.

The goal: to get out in front of an issue that continues to get serious attention on a number of fronts. Get out in front of it and avoid the need to simply react somewhere down the line to what is happening elsewhere.

Which is what happened with fantasy wagering.

Several of the experts I have found myself going to for insight made this point last week following the Control Board’s notice to the industry that said entities offering fantasy wagering need to acquire sportsbook licenses and pay careful attention to all the warnings on the package, so to speak.

The Board had been reviewing the issue for weeks – no, make that months, but may have decided to take a stand when the Wall Street Journal said the FBI and was looking into the legality of fantasy wagering.

Nevada has always paid careful attention to what the feds have to say about the care and maintenance our principal business.

But the need to get out in front of the continuing interest in sports wagering has been apparent for a long time now as other jurisdictions have been awakened to its wide appeal and all that revenue producing potential.

It’s recently been impossible to turn on the TV for any sporting event without seeing ads for FanDuel or DraftKings, companies that have been spending more on television advertising than the beer companies, as a local gaming attorney put it.

It’s another example of Nevada’s late response to the competitive pressures taking shape beyond its borders.

Former Control Board member Randy Sayre told lawmakers in Carson City two sessions ago the state had a limited window of opportunity for exploiting the uniqueness that sports betting offers Nevada. He was speaking of the opportunity he and others believed might be found in private entity wagering.

The most recent legislative session produced a lot of talk about the opportunities offered by allowing wagers on events other than a single game. We’ll probably see wagers allowed on Olympic events as a result of these discussions.

But Nevada’s No. 1 industry would benefit from an effort to discuss where the sports betting business is likely to be, let’s say, 10 years from now and then do its best to get there rather than waiting to be faced once again with the need to respond to someone else’s interesting idea.

Have we heard the last word on whether fantasy betting is a game of skill or just another example of a gambling event?

“It sure looks like gambling to me,” said former Nevada Attorney General Richard Bryan who went on to a couple of terms as governor and then a seat in the U.S. Senate before retiring to his Las Vegas law practice.

Other members of Congress from Las Vegas such as Rep. Dina Titus and U.S. Sen. Harry Reid have already issued calls for Congress to do something useful and ask the question that needs to be asked and answered.

Have we heard the last word on the subject?

Probably not and that will be good if the discussion opens the necessary doors to a wide-ranging discussion of sports wagering generally.

This is where the upcoming hearing of New Jersey’s so-far unsuccessful effort to bring Nevada style sports betting to Atlantic City casinos may produce some game changing thinking. The upcoming hearing before the full panel of judges in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals comes in the wake of two split 2-1 decisions that went against the state.

How might Nevada respond to a decision that would allow some kind of sports wagering in every state with an interest?

Questions… questions.

Las Vegas attorney Bruce Leslie, who understands the power politics that have an influence on the gaming business, said he would like to know more about the specific influencers who have had a hand in shaping sports betting legislation and regulations.

It’s helpful, he implied, to know more about the personalities we’re dealing with. For instance, why did fantasy wagering happen to get a carve-out in 2006 congressional action that prohibited bank involvement in the transactions that fuel Internet wagering?

Bryan remembers the word being passed around to the effect that no one wanted to hurt fantasy betting. Influential people were enjoying it and, anyway, the pastime was a mere shadow of its present self 10 years ago.

Leslie mused, “It will be interesting to see how all this plays out as we look for answers.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: PhilHevener@GamingToday.com.

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