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But it also illustrates the folly of the current US sports betting “prohibition” and the missed opportunity for casinos, racetracks and gaming operators around the country.
Mayweather, one of the best fighters in the history of boxing, will take on the Irish mixed-martial arts superstar McGregor on Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. It is expected to be one of the richest and most-watched fights in the history of combat sports.
The world’s biggest fights — this one included — often take place in the only state in the US where betting on fights is legal. That’s because of federal law — PASPA — that does not allow the other 49 states to authorize legal sports betting.
Boxing and Las Vegas have had a symbiotic relationship for a long time. Host a fight, bring people into town, and let them put money on it. Casinos and operators in the Nevada sports betting industry will take tens of million of dollars in bets. The weekend of the fight, Las Vegas will be electric, and people will be in town just to catch a part of the buzz or to get some action on the fight.
Of course, you can bet on the fight anywhere in the US, if you want to, just not legally. There are a variety of offshore online sportsbooks or US-based bookmaking operations — both illegal — that will happily take your wagers on whether McGregor and Mayweather will win, how they’ll do it, and how many rounds the fight will last.
The bottom line: Just a fraction of the money wagered by Americans will likely come via regulated sportsbooks. People who want to bet on it can, and the prohibition on sports betting is a ban in name only, not in practice.
The interest on betting on the fight is salt in the wound for casinos and racetracks that would love to offer action on the fight but can’t. Facilities around the country (read: outside of Nevada) would kill for the chance to take legal wagers on the fight.
The opening up of sports betting law in the US would potentially mean any state with casinos and/or horse racing could offer wagering.
But for that to happen, it would require a victory by New Jersey in its ongoing federal court case to legalize sports betting, or a change to existing federal law via Congress. (We’re likely to know the fate of the NJ sports betting case by the end of the month, as it is being appealed to the US Supreme Court.)
Legalization may happen in the future, but it’s still years off. For now, gaming facilities in the US are just missing out on:
Nearly everyone would get a boost from having legal betting on the Mayweather-McGregor fight — and from being able to take wagers on any number of sports throughout the year.
The opposition to all forms of gambling — and sports betting in particular — has been two-fold.
First, opposition to gambling was generally moral in nature. But where once gambling was confined largely to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, states around the US now have casinos.
Second, sports betting was banned in the 1990s because of concerns about game integrity. But as the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition illustrated this week, transparency and regulation of sports betting is better than the system we have now, where black market betting dominates. Allowing sports betting and regulating it is actually better for game integrity.
For now, some people will head to Vegas to watch and bet on the fight. Millions more will watch and bet on it from the comfort of their own homes. It’s up to the US whether it wants to capture that revenue and give casinos and tracks another tool to help them succeed.