Sports betting’s popularity is soaring to new heights. In February, nearly 50 million Americans wagered on the NFL’s grand finale an estimated $4.7 billion—but only a little over $100 million of that was legally wagered in Nevada. In March, Americans put down $10.4 billion on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but only $295 million will have been done legally.
A new Morning Consult poll released last month shows that fans of every NFL team overwhelmingly support lifting the federal ban on sports betting, and think states, not the federal government, should decide whether to allow sports betting within state borders.
However, thanks to a 25-year-old failing federal ban, nearly every bet is placed illegally. But a perfect storm of events could soon change this.
First, illegal betting continues to grow, making clear the ban isn’t working. Instead, it’s pushing betting into the shadows, where at least $150 billion is wagered annually without any consumer or game protections. It’s also depriving state and local governments of tax revenue that could be paying for vital public services, such as infrastructure, education and law enforcement.
The culprit of the ban is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, which permits only Nevada to offer full-fledged, traditional sports betting. President George H.W. Bush signed the ban into law in 1992. The following year, a prominent Atlantic City casino owner advocated for permitting New Jersey to offer sports betting. “You have to be” in favor of it, he said. “It is vital to keeping your taxes low, it’s vital to the senior citizens, 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 on sports betting and the massive illegal market that continues to grow in an interview with FOX Sports in November 2015. “I’m OK with (sports betting and daily fantasy sports) because it’s happening anyway. Whether you have (legalized sports betting) or you don’t have it, you have it.”
Then there’s Congress. As casino gaming has become a mainstream, omnipresent industry that operates in 40 states instead of just a few, more and more members of Congress represent districts in which their constituents work in a casino and their communities benefit from millions of dollars of tax revenue from gaming.
We believe states should have the power to decide whether to allow sports betting and how best to regulate it, just as they do commercial and tribal casinos and other forms of gaming. The benefits are manifold. First, a regulated market would give states the ability to regulate and monitor the sports betting market and diminish the flow of money that fuels criminal organizations. Second, an open, transparent market—along with modern analytics technology—makes tracking betting much easier, and thus strengthens the integrity of sports.
Finally, lifting the ban in favor of a legal, regulated market would give fans what they want. When a new casino opens outside of Nevada, many first-time visitors are surprised when they can’t find the sports book. Yet they clearly find a way to bet on games.
Allowing states to oversee sports betting would create an environment of strict regulation, rigorous consumer protections and robust tools for law enforcement and leagues to root out illegal gambling and uphold the integrity of games. That’s a far better solution than a failed federal ban that turns millions of American sports fans into criminals every game day.