Ever since I joined the iGaming industry at its inception in 1995, a coherent public policy advocacy effort has always been a challenge. In some ways, it was much easier “back in the day.”
Our first advocacy efforts began with a few of us organizing ourselves under the rubric of the Interactive Services Association (ISA) in 1996. Within a year or two, we broke off and formed the Interactive Gaming Council (IGC). At its peak, we had over 120 member companies and spent most of our time, effort and resources fighting a variety of federal prohibition bills put forward by the likes of Senator Jon Kyl and Rep. Robert Goodlatte. I had the privilege of chairing that organization from 1996 to 2004.
But, unfortunately, the iGaming side of the industry has long been unable to speak with a single voice. The land-based sector has had the American Gaming Association as its advocate since its formation in 1996. It grew out of the threat put forward by Congress’ formation of a National Gambling Impact Study Commission. The AGA has been a viable and formidable group since then, in spite of having differences of opinion among some of its key members at times.
For a short period in recent years, the AGA was also considering advocating for the growth of legal iGaming in the U.S. But, when it became clear that its members were split on the subject, they decided to remain silent on the topic and stay on the sidelines. They are, however, beginning to engage on the topic of legalizing sports betting. Their primary strategy is pointing out the negative impact that illegal sports betting has, the offshore version as well as domestic.
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has done a great job of maintaining the players’ focus on seeing this popular game be available in both the terrestrial and online worlds.
But beyond that, there’s a big void on the advocacy front. Whether it’s moving toward legalizing new gaming products on the state level or assisting in seeing sports betting become legal beyond its current jurisdictions, there’s little to no coordinated effort. In fact, these two goals are ripe for some coordination and “quarterbacking” if we’re to make any progress.
Progress in sports betting, as you may know, is held back by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). This law, passed by Congress in 1992, offered a point in time when a state could legalize sports betting. It also authorized the sports leagues to bring legal actions on behalf of the federal government for supposed infractions. Only a few states, most notably Nevada, took advantage of this opportunity at the time.
Sports betting is at an interesting crossroads. With the movement in at least some of the sports leagues toward a more realistic and rational policy, it may be time to try to find some solutions. In addition, you actually have a handful of states which have already passed bills saying that, if allowed, they would legalize sports betting in their respective jurisdictions.
In fact, at the iGaming North America conference in 2015, U.S. Senator John McCain even called for hearings on the issue of sports betting and suggested that the industry get involved in that education effort. So now may be the time to initiate those efforts, in conjunction with the AGA, which is beginning to engage.
If the debacle which the daily fantasy sports industry has lived through since the fall of 2015 has offered any lessons, it’s that there’s clearly a constituency out there for sports products as a form of entertainment.
This banner has been picked up by National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver, who authored an op-ed for the New York Times in November 2015 on the topic. He’s reiterated these thoughts more recently with interviews on ESPN and other media outlets.
There have been some similar thoughts issued by Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Clearly, it’s anticipated that the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association will be the last to come along in such thoughts but, regardless, there is some forward movement.
Similar progress has been made on bringing some form of iGaming to several new jurisdictions, albeit in fits and starts. There are some 30 states that are debating fantasy sports, which makes it the most active form of new gaming product to come to the public policy realm. And several states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and New York are looking at legalizing the likes of online poker and/or casino games during their legislative seasons.
So perhaps now is the time to make another attempt to bring the industry together. In my mind, we’re better served with a sort of think-tank effort that focuses on player protection. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when iGaming is operating successfully in jurisdictions all around the world.
They successfully handle such critical issues as age verification, geolocation, anti-money laundering and other concerns often raised by policymakers.
It’s time to come together.