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The 'I' Word

Integrity of sports at risk in unregulated market

Protecting the integrity of games is vital to sports leagues, professional athletes and fans everywhere. This mission is growing even more urgent as sports betting explodes in popularity and as the United States nears 25 years with a federal law that has driven trillions of dollars in sports betting to the black market.

Just how big is this black market? AGA estimates that Americans bet nearly $14 billion on the two biggest sporting events of 2016—Super Bowl 50 and March Madness. About 97 percent of those wagers were made illegally.

To highlight this thriving illegal market and the dangers it poses, AGA joined experts from around the globe at a standing-room-only event on Capitol Hill in April, where U.K. sports betting regulators, tech experts, sports league representatives and law enforcement discussed the threat unregulated gambling poses to the integrity of professional and amateur sports.

The event, “The World of Sports Betting and Safeguarding Sports Integrity,” educated key congressional staff, policymakers and media about the thriving, widespread illegal sports betting market and current and potential solutions. Joining AGA was Genius Sports, a U.K. technology company that monitors and identifies suspicious betting patterns.

Companies like Genius Sports are harnessing the power of data analytics to track patterns in wagering. They provide leagues, law enforcement and betting companies with powerful insights about potentially illegal activity and ensure that the integrity of sporting events is protected.

In the United Kingdom, the casino gaming industry, law enforcement and professional sports leagues collaborate in a legal, regulated environment to scrutinize betting on every game and match. Moreover, experts noted that regulation has effectively eliminated a black sports betting marketplace in the U.K. 

Panelist Rick Parry, who is the chair of the U.K. Sports Integrity Commission and former CEO of Liverpool FC, made clear that regulation and integrity go hand in hand.

“I think I would have underestimated the current size of the illegal U.S. market. It’s not a case of ‘it’s inevitable.’ It is. It’s here. So if it’s here, you’ve actually got to do something about it—you have an obligation to protect the integrity of sports.”

Other panelists noted that “regulation and having access to more data on betting patterns allows leagues, regulators and sports books to identify possible red flags regarding possible match-fixing.”

While sports leagues’ views in the United States are changing, more education is needed. Last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that “all of us have evolved a little on gambling,” yet he suggested that existence of sports betting would jeopardize the integrity of games.

However, nothing threatens the integrity of sports more than a thriving and opaque sports betting black market where the bettors and those taking the bets hide in the shadows. As we’ve learned from the U.K., using 21st century tools to monitor betting and identify suspicious betting patterns helps promote the integrity of games and protect the sports we all love. 

Further, football fans are clamoring for change. Recent research reveals that 65 percent of Super Bowl viewers say legal, regulated sports betting would not jeopardize the integrity of games and 80 percent believe it’s time to change sports betting law.

Over the last several months, the AGA has demonstrated through research and partnerships with law enforcement that the illegal sports betting market is more than just a question of integrity—it harms communities and preys on individuals.

Billions of dollars flow through illegal bookies, organized crime syndicates and a web of hundreds of offshore gambling sites. These funds underwrite everything from money laundering and drug dealing to human trafficking and extortion.

Additionally, illegal gambling does not generate a penny for our communities—nothing for local schools, hospitals or parks, or responsible gaming programs. In stark contrast, legal gaming in the United States generates $38 billion in tax revenues and supports $1.7 million in jobs across the country. These taxes support critical public services—including education, health care and law enforcement.

We believe that there is a more effective approach to sports betting law—one that will protect consumers, the integrity of the game and the communities in which we live.

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