A funny thing happened when the Alabama House considered a daily fantasy sports bill this week: The complete inefficacy of the US sports betting prohibition was unintentionally and openly mocked by a lawmaker.
What went down in Alabama
The Alabama House passed a DFS bill on Tuesday. But the debate over DFS legislation in the state was often contentious, and centered on whether lawmakers believed DFS is gambling or not. Alabama is one of the least liberal states in the union when it comes to gaming.
The debate took an interesting turn when Rep. Alvin Holmes stood before the chamber. Here’s a partial transcript of what he said:
Holmes: I was just sitting here thinking, what big hypocrites we have here in the state legislature, concerning the gambling here. I got the names of members of the legislature that are against gambling, bet every Saturday on Alabama football games and Auburn football games. And I know the bookies that you bet with. Because I bet with them every once in awhile.
All this “gambling is wrong, gambling is wrong,” They had an article in the New York Times when Alabama and Tennessee, when Alabama and Auburn play, there are millions and millions and millions of dollars are bet here on Alabama on those football games.
I have never heard you say nothing about it. You know they bet, don’t you?
Chair: Well, I don’t, so I couldn’t tell you.
Holmes: You know they bet on Alabama football games, don’t you?
Chair: Well, who’s they?
Holmes: The people of Alabama.
Chair: Are you admitting to a crime?
Holmes: Well, yes.
(Laughter in chamber)
Holmes: I am admitting to a crime that takes place every weekend.
The silly state of sports betting in the US
I’m not sure about the article Holmes was referring to in the NYT (it might be this). But what is clear is that he’s not wrong. Alabamans — and indeed Americans across the country — are wagering tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars with illegal bookmakers stateside or offshore sportsbooks.
Why is that? A federal law called PASPA — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — bans single-game wagering everywhere outside of Nevada.
But Holmes, in light-hearted fashion, basically called out the ban as totally ineffective. Even in a state that is anti-gambling on the surface, Homes pointed out that his fellow lawmakers don’t care about the “ban” and bet on football games anyway.
Is there any better case against the sports betting ban than a bunch of elected officials laughing about ignoring it in open, public debate?
Can we stop pretending the sports betting ban is a ban at all?
The words from Holmes make it clear: The sports betting ban is not a ban at all. All PASPA does is prevent states from legalizing and regulating sports betting in an effective fashion.
Increasingly, people who matter — like Major League Commissioner Rob Manfred — are at least acknowledging that there is a black market for sports betting in the US. While one option is to let that black market persist, admitting that sports betting is going on despite PASPA is an improvement in the discourse on the subject.
“You know they bet on Alabama football games, don’t you?” Holmes asked. Yes, we do. Now will the United States and the pro sports leagues allow it to happen in a legal, regulated market, or will the status quo of the black market continue? We don’t know the answer to that, yet.