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Sports betting

There may soon come a day when you can place a bet on your favorite team without having to travel, visit offshore Internet websites, or interact with people who don’t have necks.

[NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver, in a November op-ed submission to the New York Times, said he supports federal regulation creating “a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. … Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”

[Rockets owner Les] Alexander prefers to let Silver take the lead on what he describes as “a league issue, not a team issue.” But as NBA owners and players travel to New York for All-Star Weekend, Alexander continues to believe it’s time to amend the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 law that generally prohibits states other than Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon from authorizing sports betting.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Alexander said. “People are gambling now on sports teams and doing it through bookmakers, which is illegal. And they are going to do it anyway, so why not make it legal? It doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s not something that’s going to hurt people.”

[…]

According to the Nevada Gaming Control agency, bettors wagered $3.9 billion on sports in the state in 2014, with the state’s 187 sportsbooks winning $227.04 million. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion is wagered illegally on all sports annually in the United States, and it estimated recently that illegal bets placed on the Super Bowl would total $3.8 billion.

That doesn’t include millions wagered in what has become the legal and, in many cases, league-authorized industry of fantasy sports. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 41 million people spent $3.6 billion playing fantasy sports in 2014.

The fantasy sports trade group emphasizes on its website that fantasy sports are games of skill and are not gambling. Alexander, however, cited fantasy sports as an example of the move toward more liberal attitudes on sports gaming.

“There’s so much fantasy sports out there, which is a form of gambling, and that’s legal now,” he said. “It (legal gambling on games) is really not a step up. It’s a step in the same direction.”

While Silver advocates changes in federal law, the NBA joins the other major leagues in opposing unilateral moves by individual states toward legalized gambling on sports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year signed a Sports Wagering Law that allows betting on games at New Jersey racetracks and casinos. The four major pro leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit in federal court, and a judge in Trenton, N.J., in November granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting tracks and casinos from taking bets on games. The state has appealed.

Accordingly, some analysts agree that even if the NFL and other leagues change their stance on gambling to match Silver’s approach, it could be as long as a decade, perhaps more, before the Texas Legislature will authorize sports gambling in Texas.

“Gaming is not a popular word here,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based consultant and lobbyist who has worked with Alexander and the Rockets. “The prospects for gaming regulations this session are minimal. It’s not rosy at all.

“I don’t think it’s from moral outrage. I think it’s a matter of fear from new members that come from conservative (voter) bases.”

That’s true enough, but I think there’s more to it than that. If Commissioner Silver managed to get Congress to authorize any state to allow sports betting – and remember, the NFL and Major League Baseball are not on board with this – there would be two distinct groups in Texas working to get that business. One is the horse racing tracks, which have been trying to get the Lege to allow slot machines at their sites, and one is casino interests, who would push for casino gambling to be legalized. Those two groups compete against each other, so neither plan ever makes any advances. If they ever worked together towards a common goal, they might have better chances. That just hasn’t been the case, and so here we are. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the over on that “decade or more” line. I’d give marijuana legalization better odds of happening in that time frame.

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