A draft of a new bill looking to open up the United States to legal sports betting surfaced in Congress on Thursday.
But its fate in the short term remains cloudy in the current political climate, both in the world of sports and in Washington.
The latest Congressional sports betting bill
The bill being floated– called the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act or GAME Act — was first reported by ESPN. It was released Thursday morning by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D – NJ) — who has been a vocal advocate for rolling back the federal prohibition — is the force behind the bill. You can see the draft here.
Two other bills — one authored by Pallone — were introduced earlier this year.
What’s in the sports betting bill
There is a lot in the bill. But here is the main takeaway: As written, it would repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
PASPA is the federal law that bans single-game sports wagering outside of Nevada. It is also the law in play in the ongoing NJ sports betting case.
The bill would let states do as they wish with regards to legalizing and regulating sports betting, something a number of lawmakers in statehouses around the country have expressed interest in.
The bill also widely defines what “betting” is under federal law. As written, this definition would include daily fantasy sports. Here is a summary from the E&C committee on this part of the bill:
The discussion draft defines “bet or wager” to mean the risking of something of value, including virtual currency or virtual items, upon the outcome of a contest of others, a sporting event, or a game of skill or a game of chance, on the expectation that the person will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. The term includes participation in lotteries, sports betting, and participation in fantasy sports and fantasy e-sports.
Interestingly, that would put it at odds with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which explicitly carves out fantasy sports in its language as falling outside such a definition.
The climate in Congress, for sports betting and generally
Here is what is currently happening in Congress on passing new laws: Not much.
Republicans are busy trying to advance their policies on a variety of fronts, including health care, the budget and taxes. Something like a repeal of PASPA is currently far down the priority list for just about anyone outside of the New Jersey delegation.
Even with control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, Republicans are not finding it easy to advance their agenda.
Congress is also somewhat paralyzed by the problems surrounding the administration of President Donald Trump on a variety of fronts, from the firing of FBI director James Comey to questions about officials’ ties to Russia.
All of this makes short-term progress on a bill unlikely. But, a bill has to exist for it even to be considered, so it’s still a positive development.
The American Gaming Association — which spearheads lobbying for US sports betting — has said Congress will put a bill on Trump’s desk during his current term. That’s a long window and one that is achievable, but one that requires some underlying change.
Congress probably needs more motivation on sports betting
Gambling has expanded well beyond Las Vegas and Atlantic City in recent decades. But that has come mostly in response to states trying to find ways to generate new revenue, not some libertarian streak by lawmakers to allow people to gambling if they want to.
On the federal level, the most recent example of legislation impacting online gambling was 2006’s UIGEA, which sought to limit transactions as it relates to online gambling.
If Congress is going to get motivated to act on legislation repealing PASPA sooner rather than later, it likely needs more than the NJ delegation and the casino industry pushing for it.
How might that manifest itself? Some of it is from the AGA as it attempts to add to and widen its coalition of stakeholders pushing for sports betting legalization.
But there probably needs to be more than that.
What are the sports leagues going to do?
The major professional sports leagues (and the NCAA) are currently all over the map on legal sports betting:
- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said many times he supports regulated sports betting. But he has also said his league won’t actively lobby for it.
- Major League Baseball appears to be getting closer to the NBA, but has stopped short of saying it wants regulated sports betting.
- The NFL is moving a team to Las Vegas. But it still publicly opposes legal sports betting.
- The NHL is also heading to Vegas, and has even softened its stance on relationships with casinos that have sportsbooks. But Commissioner Gary Bettman likely isn’t going to get on the regulation train quite yet.
- The PGA Tour and Major League Soccer have sounded positive notes about the future of regulated sports betting.
- The NCAA continues to oppose sports betting of any type.
The question remains whether sports betting legalization can happen without the sports leagues. After all, outside of casinos and racetracks, they would be the ones most directly affected by a repeal of PASPA.
The presence and discussion of a new sports betting bill in Congress is a welcome sign. But its short-term future is murky in today’s environment.