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Stern’s comments on sports betting came in the context of a discussion on the final day of the gaming trade show in Las Vegas. He had a discussion in a large public forum at G2E with American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman.
The AGA has been pushing the legalization of sports betting as its signature issue.
Stern was not at G2E formally representing the NBA, but his opinion is certainly one that carries weight because of his old job. During his tenure, Stern was not in favor of sports betting in a legal and regulated fashion, instead agreeing with the prohibition that has existed in the US.
When and why did he change his mind?
“Over time I’ve come to accept the notion that a properly run gambling operation … is protective, and not deleterious, to the health of sports,” Stern said.
“I guess I would say early on, I realized this idea that gambling is bad — it’s a state-regulated or Nevada-regulated industry — the notion that that’s going to lead to bad things has gotten to be an outdated notion as we learn more about illegal gaming and the size of the market,” Stern added.
Stern, from his comments, was not behind the most likely way of moving forward on legal sports betting in the US. That would be a repeal of PASPA, the federal law that bans sports betting pretty much everywhere other than Nevada.
Stern advocated for a federal framework on sports betting that would have all the stakeholders get involved.
“We have got to get everyone together, that involves the casinos, the gaming tech companies, the financial regulation experts … and the sports leagues, and come up with what I would like to see in terms of model legislation,” Stern said.
“That requires the sports leagues to participate, to contribute their intellectual property to the process, regulate the gaming in a certain way, with guarantees for its integrity. … And then the regulatory scheme that emerges and gets passed, let states and the sports leagues to opt in if they want to.”
That, of course, is a much higher hurdle to clear than just taking PASPA off the books, which is the baseline the AGA is aiming for with its advocacy efforts, and its lobbying plans in Congress. A repeal would simply let states decide what they want to do on sports betting.
Amending PASPA or creating a new regulatory bill is far more complicated than a simple repeal. The plan as put forth by Stern would require the NBA and other leagues to be active in the process, something none of them — even current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver — have expressed a willingness to do.
So how exactly Stern’s vision of a federal framework would come to fruition is unclear.
Stern is also not at all a fan of a state-by-state approach.
“The leagues don’t want the states to do it (regulate sports betting),” he said in a raised tone, expressing disdain for the idea that 50 different government bodies could be involved.
Stern also touched on the New Jersey sports betting case — in which the NBA and the other pro leagues are plaintiffs trying to stop NJ from authorizing wagering. Stern asked, “Do I have to explain why I don’t want Gov. (Chris) Christie in charge of regulating my game?”
Stern, of course, is well spoken and a good cheerleader; simply put he’s a worthwhile ally for the push for sports betting regulation to have.
His words give the AGA another influential person in its corner as it attempts to get Congress to act on PASPA.
The coalition the casino group is continuing to build will need more active voices on its side, and ones outside of the gaming industry. Stern fits the bill on that account.