Opinions are changing on nationwide sports betting, but not the laws

Opinions are changing on nationwide sports betting, but not the laws

October 11, 2016 3:01 AM
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When people such as former NBA commissioner David Stern come out in support of legalized sports gambling in the United States, it’s clear momentum in that direction is building.

After all, Stern and The Association were adamantly opposed to any form of legalization not too long ago.

“There’s been an incredible change (in public opinion), definitely a shift,” Stephen Master, a senior vice president for the Nielsen TV ratings company, said during a recent seminar at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

While opinions are changing, laws aren’t.

Not yet.

“We’re getting closer,” said Quinton Singleton, a former vice president at CG Technology sportsbooks who now works with the NYX Gaming Group. “But I keep saying ‘two to three years’ every two to three years.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey have gotten shot down in their bid to make sports gambling legal in that state, most recently by a Circuit Court of Appeals. Their next step is expected to be an appeal to the Supreme Court.

A law passed 24 years ago – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) – is what stands in the way of other states outside of Nevada being allowed to offer similar sports betting. Nevada received a grandfather-clause exemption at the time.

Proponents of legalization point out the contradiction that exists with this federal law dictating sports betting whereas individual states are allowed to make their own decisions on other forms of gambling.

The best way to beat it is for more states to join New Jersey and try to repeal PASPA. It will be an expensive journey with enormous lawyer fees, but ultimately beneficial in the end.

“I think in the next four years, you’ll see maybe New York or another state, maybe California, challenge PASPA in court,” said Chris Sieroty, the U.S. editor for Gambling Compliance, a provider of analysis to the industry.

“More litigation, in my mind, is inevitable,” added Joe Asher, CEO at William Hill, which has more than 100 betting locations in Nevada. “It will be a much quicker pathway.”

Much quicker, that is, than waiting for lawmakers around the country to actually fix the law on their own.

The reason previous opponents have come around to embrace legalization is because they finally realize the estimated $400 billion U.S. citizens could be betting on sports in a black market is a far bigger threat to the integrity of the games than a legal, regulated market that would also generate considerable tax revenue.

Rick Parry, a former chief executive for soccer’s English Premier League in the U.K., which has had legalized sports betting for more than five decades, offers this advice if the U.S. ever comes around to legalization:

“Make it attractive. Don’t place artificial restrictions on the type of bet, don’t restrict payouts, don’t set tax rates that are so high.”

If it’s not attractive, it will be much less likely to wipe out the black market.

“Prohibition doesn’t work,” said Chris Dougan, the communications director for Genius Sports, a London-based company that helps monitor unusual betting patterns for any possible wrongdoing. “Prohibition doesn’t stop something from happening.”

Give the people what they want and they’ll be much more likely to bet legally than illegally.

Sieroty believes the NHL’s decision to bring a team to Las Vegas starting with the 2017-18 season could be the next turning point in this quest.

It will prove that a professional team can exist just fine in this gambling mecca.

“That’s probably going to do more to help legalize sports betting in this country than anything else,” Sieroty said.

An NHL ’Nugget’

The popularity of hockey betting undoubtedly will rise with the first major-sports franchise coming to Vegas.

Sportsbooks will continue to try to offer more wagering options, but for now the award for creativity unquestionably goes to the Golden Nugget.

The Nugget is offering what it calls “The Canadian Power Play – 7 on 6.” It’s a prop bet matching all seven of Canada’s NHL teams against the “top finishing six USA teams.”

The U.S. is -49.5 points.

A season ago, it wasn’t even close. The top six-finishing U.S. teams (Washington, Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Anaheim) combined for 646 points compared to 536 points for the seven Canadian teams (Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto).