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The hearing took place in the Subcommittee of Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It centered on safety and regulation surrounding MMA contests, mostly in the form of fights staged by the UFC.
Pallone — the ranking Democratic member of the committee — turned the discussion to sports betting at every opportunity. It’s an issue close to his heart; he has pushed to end the federal ban (PASPA) as his state tries to legalize sports wagering. The NJ sports betting case will be heard by the US Supreme Court in December.
Pallone dedicated much of his opening statement to sports betting:
There is a revolution in the world of sports and that’s the exploding popularity if sports betting. Sports betting is more popular and widely accepted than ever before.
Despite that, it’s still illegal in most of the country. A majority of Americans now believe that sports betting should be legal, and since it’s happening anyway we should ensure that basic consumer protections are attached to it.
Pallone went onto talk briefly about his proposed legislation — the GAME Act — that would update “outdated” federal gaming laws, as he called them. On sports betting, Pallone said his bill would help by “increasing transparency and integrity” in the industry that offshore, black market sportsbooks currently dominate.
You can watch the whole hearing here.
Pallone, in asking questions of the witnesses in front of the committee, directed his attention to the representative of the UFC. With his questioning of UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Marc Ratner, Pallone was trying to draw focus to one of his signature issues and perhaps turn the heads of some of his fellow committee members.
When asked about the intersection of MMA and wagering, here’s what Ratner said:
“I know offshore there’s betting everywhere. In Nevada, all our fights are put on the board, you can bet on the first fight through the last,” Ratner said. “Personally, not for the UFC, I am in favor of sports betting around the world, around the country especially.”
And here are more excerpts from their exchange:
Pallone: In your experience, has the availability of sports betting affected fans’ interest and engagement in UFC fights?
Ratner: Absolutely. It really is meaningful and you see on all our broadcasts that fighter ‘A’ is a two to one favorite over fighter ‘B’ and people bet.
Pallone: And even in states that haven’t legalized sports betting, people are still wagering illegally on UFC and other sporting events, correct?
Ratner: Well I know there’s offshore betting, I do know that I don’t know if its illegal to go on the internet and bet on it I cannot answer that directly, but we’re certainly aware of it.
Pallone: Does legalizing sports betting bring it into the sunshine, and help sports leagues that are trying to help protect the integrity of their games.
Ratner: Yes absolutely, I think that it’s very, very important. … I think it’s important for the integrity of all sports.
Pallone: And how would legalizing sports betting in other states other than Nevada affect UFC’s efforts to ensure integrity in MMA fights?
Ratner: I would think it would be the same as Nevada, wherever they would want to have it, we welcome it, and I think it would be a boon to the different states.
Pallone also addressed the subject of sports betting during a Facebook Live session right after the hearing. Pallone underlined his stance that New Jersey and other states should be able to do what they want when it comes to sports gambling.
“We’re pursuing both efforts, one to get the Supreme Court to say there shouldn’t be any federal ban on sports betting, and one to pass legislation that will allow it,” Pallone said.