Legal Sports Betting embraced by Pro Leagues
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There aren’t many jurisdictions in North America where legal sports betting takes place. Wagering straight up on the Toronto Blue Jays isn’t an option in Canada, and only four US states allow punters to lay odds on athletic contests. That could change in the coming years as more professional leagues may be embracing sports betting as a way to regain their audience in today’s digital age.
It’s become observably evident in viewership ratings that not nearly as many sports fans are tuning in to major league events these days. Even some of the most devoted fans are skipping the games on television, keeping up with scores on their mobile devices instead. Apparently some pro leagues believe that, if fans were able to conduct legal sports betting, they would be more likely to tune in.
Adam Silver, head of the National Basketball Association (NBA), was the first to embrace the concept of legalization. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Times back in 2014, declaring his support for the regulation of legal sports betting and encouraging other pro leagues to follow his lead.
Silver argued that, legal or not, sports betting still happens all across Canada and the US. While the NBA opposed legalization for about two decades, being a staunch supporter of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that officially banned sports betting in all but four US states, the organization now believes regulation is necessary to protect bettors and athletes from the estimated $400 billion in illegal wagers that are placed through underground methods each year.
Last week, Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he’s initiating a review of baseball’s wagering ban. Manfred responded supportively to Silver’s op-ed in 2014, and while he wouldn’t disclose what options they are considering in the review, he did tell Yahoo Finance:
“Sports betting happens. Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there.”
Legal Sports Betting Just Makes Sense
Daniel Wallach of Becker & Poliakoff, a legal firm in Florida, is an expert in sports law, and he believes the MLB is finally recognizing that sports betting must be embraced as a natural evolution or pro athletics.
“I don’t think this is so much baseball’s evolution on the issue as much as it’s a recognition of the reality that’s occurring,” said Wallach.
NFL, NHL, NCAA Still Opposed
Not every pro league is on board with legal sports betting, though. Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), commented during last week’s Super Bowl that the integrity of the game must be upheld by making “sure that there’s a fine line between team-sports gambling and the NFL.”
The National Hockey League (NHL) has maintained a similar stance, opposing any efforts to legalize sports betting in Canada and the US. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has also been strictly opposed to legalization for years, and with logical reasoning.
Emily James, a spokeswoman for the NCAA said ports betting “threatens both the integrity of the game and the well-being of student-athletes.”
Victor Matheson, a sports economist with College of the Holy Cross, elaborated on that sentiment. “The NCAA is at risk for corruption in a way that the NFL isn’t because the NFL is paying even their lowest-paid guys $450,000,” he said. College athletes, on the other hand, receive no monetary compensation for their performance.
NJ Push To Invalidate PASPA Just May Work
The state of New Jersey has been pushing hard for legal sports betting since 2013, taking up the argument shortly before Super Bowl XVLIII was held in East Rutherford, NJ in 2014. Governor Chris Christie’s efforts have been taken all the way to federal court, and Wallach believes the state’s attempt to have PASPA invalidated are likely to succeed.
Wallach pointed out that the Supreme Court has invited the US solicitor general to give an official opinion on the law, and whether the case should be heard. The fact that the Supreme Court has done so, said Wallach, indicates that court’s interest in the case. And if the court is interested, they are more likely to side with New Jersey.
“That was a game-changer. Many were skeptical that New Jersey would ever be able to convince the Supreme Court to hear the case,” he said.
“If the court reviews the case, it’s probably more likely than not that the federal law will be invalidated on constitutional grounds, and that will open everything up,” conclude Wallach.
Giving more merit to a future transition towards legal sports betting is the NFL’s declining TV ratings. Brooklyn Law School’s Associate Professor, Jodi Balsam, explained the forced position of pro leagues. “They’re confronting a new digital world order in which their reliable revenue streams may be shrinking.”
When it comes to revenue, even the NFL may be willing to alter its stance to get the numbers back up.
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