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Let’s Legalize and Regulate It

The federal sports betting ban has failed and it’s time to get control over the activity

America’s federal ban on sports betting has failed. That’s why a new, diverse coalition including law enforcement, elected officials and gaming leaders is coming together to reform the law. We want to give states the opportunity to decide whether to legalize and regulate sports betting, just as they already do with casinos, lotteries and other forms of gaming.

Officially, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) prohibits traditional sports betting outside Nevada. Unofficially, millions of Americans bet at will in a vast, unregulated illegal market that offers no oversight by law enforcement, no accountability to regulators, no protections for consumers and no concern about the integrity of games.

In the two biggest sports events of the year—the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament—Americans wagered nearly $15 billion. About 97 percent was bet illegally. A law mocked and ignored by 97 percent of Americans isn’t serving any public benefit.

How low is public esteem for the current law? A little over a year ago, President Obama went on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and joked about pardoning himself for betting on the Super Bowl. When a federal law becomes a punchline for the president of the United States, it’s time for a change.

The newly formed American Sports Betting Coalition supports a new approach. We believe giving states the power to decide whether to allow sports betting and how best to regulate it would offer many important public benefits.

First, an open, transparent, regulated betting market takes sports betting out of the shadows, making it easier for law enforcement to protect the public and choke off money flowing into criminal organizations.

Second, a regulated market combined with modern data analytics technology makes it easier to track sports wagering, identify suspicious and anomalous betting patterns and strengthen the integrity of games.

Third, lifting the ban would enable state policymakers to align the law with public opinion. A recent national survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (GQR) found that ending the federal sports betting ban is one of the few issues that unites Democrats, Republicans and independents. According to the survey, 57 percent of independents, 58 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats want to let states make the call. Among avid sports fans, support for ending the ban rises to 72 percent.

Public attitudes toward gaming have changed dramatically since 1992 when the current prohibition was imposed. Gaming has spread to 40 states across America. More than 1,000 casinos draw millions of guests and work closely with law enforcement and regulators to combat illegal gambling. And more political leaders see firsthand the benefits gaming brings to their districts in terms of economic development, jobs and tax revenues.

Actually, one casino owner first articulated the case for legalized sports betting right after PASPA was enacted. “You have to be” in favor of sports betting, he said. “It is vital to keeping your taxes low… and it’s vital to putting the bookies out of business.”

That casino owner is now the president of the United States.

President Trump reiterated his views in November 2015. “I’m OK with (sports betting and daily fantasy sports) because it’s happening anyway,” said Trump. “Whether you have (legalized sports betting) or you don’t have it, you have it.”

Sports leagues also recognize public attitudes toward gaming have changed. Later this year, the first professional sports team in Las Vegas will suit up when the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League take the ice. Back in March, 31 out of 32 National Football League franchise owners voted to allow the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas.

Betting on sports has become a mainstream form of entertainment embraced by millions of Americans. Let’s help law enforcement shut down illegal gambling operations and give fans what they want by ending the federal ban on sports betting.