For those hoping to see expanded legal sports betting in the United States eventually, most point to a single moment as the start of that journey.
The Silver op-ed anniversary
That moment came two years ago, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver penned an op-ed in the New York Times. Many have hailed that as the beginning of the end for the federal prohibition on sports betting — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
From Silver’s Nov. 13, 2014, article:
In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.
These requirements would include: mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.
It was certainly a shock to see those words come from the commissioner of a major professional sports league. The leagues, after all, had uniformly been against any form of sports betting in the country. Silver’s op-ed was no doubt a sea change.
That op-ed, if nothing else, has certainly triggered a discussion on the topic of sports betting in the US. A Congressional committee is now looking into what the federal government should do with PASPA.
But still, two years after Silver’s the question, in my mind, is this: To what extent does Adam Silver really back legal sports betting in the US?
What the NBA and Silver have done since
I have wondered aloud for some time what the end game for Silver has been on the sports betting issue. Words are great, but if not backed up with action, will it amount to much in the long run?
Here’s what we know:
- After the op-ed, little has come from Silver other than reiterating that position that he favors a regulated sports betting environment.
- Silver favors a “federal framework” for sports betting, something that is not going to happen in the US any time soon. That position was recently reiterated by former NBA Commissioner David Stern (who was not speaking on behalf of the NBA or Silver, but whose position is in line.)
- The American Gaming Association is starting a lobbying push on sports betting in Congress, likely early next year. The NBA has no plans to publicly be a part of that push.
- The NBA remains a plaintiff in the New Jersey sports betting case. The state has attempted to legalize sports betting, while the US pro leagues have opposed that effort.
The ‘federal framework’ for sports betting
The optimistic line of thinking for sports betting proponents is this: It just takes the sports leagues using a hands-off approach to the sports betting issue for PASPA to be altered. They don’t have to actively lobby for it, but they also wouldn’t oppose it any sort of active manner. That’s certainly a possible outcome.
The problem is, the outcome of a “federal framework” for sports betting is really not likely, as I explored in this column.
Simply put, the federal government is not really in the business of regulating gambling. It generally just lets states deal with it, if they want. To think that we’re going to a have a federal commission overseeing sports betting in the next five to ten years is not at all likely.
Will the NBA/leagues accept less?
So where does that leave us and the NBA? Let’s say the Congressional committee looking into PASPA comes up with a bill that allows states to legalize and regulate sports wagering, if they so choose. (This is the most likely scenario, for what it’s worth.)
What does the NBA do then? Does Silver back off his position that a federal framework is what is needed? Will he approve of regulation happening on a state-by-state basis?
I was in the room when Stern said this in Vegas: “The leagues don’t want the states to do it (regulate sports betting).” When he said this, it was by far the most animated he got.
Does Silver share this stance? If push comes to shove, it’s not at all clear that Silver approves of less than that “federal framework.” In fact, it’s at least possible he would vocally oppose the state-by-state regulation model.
Additionally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says things that are diametrically opposed to what Silver advocates, at least publicly.
The op-ed from Silver two years ago was a major force for change in the legality of sports betting in the US. But whether the force exerted by Silver and the NBA remains a slight breeze or turns into a mighty wind remains to be seen.