A NEW AGE DAWNING
There’s a growing army of legal sports betting proponents
By Buzz Daly
Not everyone buys into the notion that evolution is for real and a positive development. Darwin’s theory still has nonbelievers, and evolved modern man is considered a wimp by some women. But the burgeoning evolution that is changing negative attitudes about legal sports betting among the cadre of traditional naysayers is most welcome by the Nevada sports betting industry.
The hardened anti-gaming mindset had a long incubation period among both professional and amateur leagues. But there are serious indications that at least the professional leagues—NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL —realize that the times they are a-changing. Shifting American attitudes coupled with emerging economic realities are creating conditions for the dawn of a new age as legal bookmakers and their customers greet it with champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
The implications for millions of Americans who, for a variety of reasons, harbor an inclination to legally bet on sports but cannot do so are also most encouraging. Now, instead of tilting at windmills or earnestly fighting for a lost cause, punters outside of Nevada are hopeful of eventually scratching their itch. By all accounts, a sea of change is imminent.
As the suits in Las Vegas recently reviewed their financial records, they saw that for the most recent month, March, gambling in general was down but sports books enjoyed record volume. Results show that casino gaming revenue fell three percent from a year ago. But the books set an all time record for the month with $458 million bet on sports.
Sports betting handle for the state has grown from $2.4 billion in 2006 to $4.2 billion last year, and is projected to top $5 billion this year. Gaming Control Board senior research analyst Michael Lawton noted that, “The industry in Nevada has never been stronger. There are lots of moving parts contributing to what we are seeing.”
Some of the moving parts he referred to include mobile apps, mainstream and social media, popularity of in-game betting, prop bets, fantasy sports, significant upgrades in Las Vegas sports books, and a shift away from offshore wagering due to legal deterrents.
Industry movers and shakers embrace the overwhelming assumption that federal law prohibiting sports betting has failed and no longer represents American attitudes. Moreover, the massive illegal market is siphoning away millions of dollars of taxable revenue that could benefit local communities.
And so, at last the sports books and their parent companies have a new ally in the battle to broaden legal sports betting. The American Gaming Association (AGA) is putting its considerable resources into “leading a national conversation with law enforcement, sports leagues and other interested parties to align the law with American attitudes, protect the integrity of sports and curb the massive illegal gambling market.”
The 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) outlawed sports betting throughout the U.S. Four states previously allowed some form of sports betting and were grandfathered into the law. Nevada was the only state that allowed full-fledged betting on college and pro sports through licensed book makers. But the attempt to prohibit sports betting by Americans has been a miserable failure. For example, $9.2 billion was wagered on March Madness, with 97 percent bet illegally, according to the AGA.
Twenty-five years after PASPA, the vast majority of football fans polled believes legal, regulated wagering will have no impact on outcomes and will protect the integrity of the games. It’s time to revisit the federal prohibition on sports betting, and this idea is gaining traction.
Sports book directors including MGM Resorts Jay Rood, Westgate’s Jay Kornegay and South Point’s Jimmy Vaccaro, routinely appear on mainstream media such as ESPN’s “Sports Center.” Twitter is awash in sports betting-related posts. Wagering menus in Vegas books are becoming more aggressive in expanding customers’ options.
Happily, the stuffy, blue-nosed anti-gaming leaders of professional sports leagues have apparently sniffed the prevailing winds and tempered their positions on sports betting. Just how have these league commissioners evolved on this issue? Check out their words.
MLB COMMISSIONER ROB MANFRED: “What I have said about legalized gambling is that the landscape is changing and that baseball … will look at its relationships with legalized gambling … and re-evaluate given that the country has changed in terms of its approach to legalized gambling.”
NBA COMMISSIONER ADAM SILVER: “Laws on sports betting should be changed. Sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”
FORMER NBA COMMISSIONER DAVID STERN: “There should be federal legislation that says ‘Let’s go all the way’ and have betting on sports.”
Even the NFL’s Roger Goodell has transitioned from an adamant adversary of Las Vegas to a more moderate stance. Recently he admitted, “All of us have evolved a little on gambling. To me, where I cross the line is anything that can impact the integrity of the game.”
AGA CEO Geoff Freeman agreed, noting that what threatens the integrity of the game most is “a thriving and opaque betting black market. The gaming industry invites those who are serious about protecting the integrity of sports to partner with us in pursuit of eliminating the sports betting black market.”
There is even legitimate speculation that an NFL franchise, the Oakland Raiders, could relocate to Vegas. Owner Mark Davis will put up $500 million towards a new stadium. It would require approval by 24 of the league’s 32 team owners. That is not an insurmountable barrier.
All the surveys and polls suggest that legal sports betting beyond the confines of Nevada is an idea whose time is rapidly approaching. If Donald Trump can leapfrog 16 intensely committed candidates to become the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president of the U.S., getting a legal bet down in New Jersey or California in the near future doesn’t seem like such a longshot after all.