Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, is a man on a mission. And that mission is supported by every one of his members, something that rarely happens in the gaming industry. The association has pointed out that billion will be bet on sports during the 2016-17 season of professional and college football. Unfortunately for gaming, billion of that total will be bet illegally.
“The American appetite for sports betting has never been greater,” says Freeman. The AGA released a survey just days before Super Bowl 50, which found that 80 percent of Americans want sports betting laws to change.
Sports betting legalization has been a topic in the gaming industry for the last 10 years. Delaware, one of four states grandfathered in under the terms of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 (Nevada, Montana and Oregon are the other three), was ready to legalize full sports betting in 2009. But a decision in a lawsuit by the major professional and amateur leagues stated that Delaware could only offer the kind of sports betting that was legal prior to 1992, which was only parlay betting on the NFL.
Following the passage of PASPA, New Jersey was given a one-year window to legalize sports betting, but it never went to the voters, as nervous Republicans blocked a referendum lest it encourage more Democrats to vote and thereby defeat the Republican gubernatorial candidate. More recently, a referendum legalizing sports betting passed overwhelmingly in 2011, but the state was prevented from taking steps to allow the bets by PASPA. Subsequent lawsuits that tried to find loopholes in PASPA have been unsuccessful, so it appears that only federal action can cure this situation.
In October, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone said he planned to introduce a bill to overturn PASPA.
“The laws need a wholesale review to see how they can actually work together and create a fairer playing field for all types of gambling, both online and offline, including sports betting and daily fantasy sports,” the Democrat told ESPN. “We must ensure the laws are actually creating an environment of integrity and accountability, and include strong consumer protections.”
The AGA isn’t very comfortable with the bill, according to sources. The organization wants a full-court press on a bill that has wide support. And since Pallone didn’t consult the AGA before submitting his bill, the coordination of efforts has not occurred—yet.
“We see this as a three- to five-year effort,” AGA Vice President of Public Affairs Whit Askew told attendees at the Arizona Indian Gaming Association conference in October. “We think PASPA has been a failed bill for 25 years, since trillions of dollars have been wagered illegally on sports over those years. And we think that argument will resonate with the sports leagues, with Congress and with all interested parties.”
Already on board are NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Commissioner Emeritus David Stern. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and NHL leader Gary Bettman—whose league will locate a franchise in Las Vegas starting in 2017—have both said it’s time to take another look at legal sports betting. Only NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell—who may also be facing a decision on a Las Vegas franchise in 2017—is still on the other side of the fence.