While credit goes to New Jersey politicians Ray Lesniak and Chris Christie for pushing the landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), part of the credit must go to Sara Slane, then vice president of the American Gaming Association, who led the organization’s efforts to support the lawsuit. Slane was effective and convincing in her arguments and, in the end, the campaign was successful.
Slane now runs her own consultancy for organizations looking to bring legal sports betting to new jurisdictions or get into the business. She spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from her home in June.
The full podcast of this interview covers how sports leagues, teams and others are taking advantage of legal sports betting, as well as overviews of states where legislation is pending.
GGB: We just passed the second anniversary of the repeal of PASPA, certainly a landmark in the casino and sports businesses. What does it mean to mark this second anniversary of the repeal?
Sara Slane: I feel like the gaming industry has kicked the door open now on sports betting. I definitely feel like this has moved a lot faster than anyone had anticipated, certainly with states enacting legislation. And with that there’s been a huge discussion now—really understanding how it works, the benefits of legalizing sports betting, and tremendous growth now for the industry. And so it’s been incredibly exciting to be a part of it.
Of course the coronavirus threw a real curveball to the sports betting industry, with the shutdown of all major sports around the world. Do you believe there’s a real pent-up desire for bettors to get back into action?
Yes, without a doubt. And even during that time when sports around the world essentially shut down, some very creative stopgap measures were put in place. Who would have imagined that we would create a whole new market around table tennis? But I think that there is, without a doubt, a huge pent-up demand.
Now being able to be back to the typical sports people bet on, it’s going to be interesting to see the numbers that come out as a result. Because I think everyone was looking for some entertainment when they were locked in their homes.
Since the introduction of legal sports betting, the dominant sports betting companies have been the same companies that were leaders in daily fantasy sports: DraftKings and FanDuel. Did the casinos understand that this was a possibility when the AGA was pushing this bill? Was there any indication that they would become so dominant so quickly?
That’s a tough question. Certainly FanDuel and DraftKings are dominating the marketplace right now. And at the time, when we were looking at PASPA, they were in the daily fantasy sports sphere, but they did quickly pivot to offer legalized sports betting.
It’s a question that comes back to regulations, honestly. On one hand, the industry has kept out a lot of competition because of the high bar of regulation and how hard it is to cross that threshold, and how expensive it can be. On the other hand, there have been some complaints that it’s not really led to a lot of innovation.
DFS was in this massive gray area for a couple of years. And they did the work, they legalized DFS and were continuing to operate. Casino operators had known for years that this could be a potential opportunity. It’s a double-edged sword; I get it, on both sides. I’m empathetic to the fact that the casino operators feel like they were sidelined from an opportunity to participate in a gray market with daily fantasy sports. I also understand from the daily fantasy sports side, when they were shut down, they did all the work they needed to do to legalize it, and took advantage of the sports betting opportunity that came along.
Another thing that happened really quickly—more quickly than people would have thought—was the spread of mobile sports betting. In New Jersey, within a year, 75 percent of the market came from mobile devices. Did you think that would happen so quickly?
Not at all. I’m not surprised that mobile has overtaken retail sports betting, certainly given the locations of retail operations in New Jersey and the easier accessibility of mobile in the state. No, I wasn’t surprised. That’s where the customers are, that’s where the industry should be heading, and I think that that will continue to happen in other states.
One of the goals of legal sports betting was to eliminate illegal offshore sports betting operations. This hasn’t happened to the extent that the AGA wanted. Do we need to concentrate on this to really get rid of illegal sports betting?
We had long said that the most effective way to shut down the illegal sports betting market is to have the most competitive legal sports betting market out there. But in order to compete with the illegal operators, you’re going to have to have a good regulatory model in place and a good tax structure. That’s going to empower that operator to thrive and offer good odds to compete with the illegal market. I think that truly is going to be the way that you’re going to shut it down.
Are there other simple tactical things that should be happening right now? Absolutely. Legitimate media companies that have deals with gaming operators should not be taking advertising dollars from illegal operators. I think the leagues have done a good job at educating their owners about illegal markets and illegal advertising, and preventing them from taking money from any of those websites.
There’s always going to be a struggle with law enforcement, and getting them to pay attention to go after illegal operators… so that will always be a challenge.
But, all in all, I think that the most effective way to do it is to be able to compete with it, and empower the operators to do that.