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It was three years ago today that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver famously put his name on a New York Times op-ed that declared “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.”
I’ve been a critic of Silver and the NBA, which hasn’t done that much that is publicly visible or material to bringing about that vision. The NBA, for one, still remains a plaintiff in the New Jersey sports betting case (although that case is about what amounts to “unregulated” spots wagering).
Still, there’s no doubt we live in a wholly different world for the future of sports betting. The NJ case about the federal sports betting ban will be heard in front of the US Supreme Court next month. This week alone there is a conference in New York City dedicated to the possibility of legal sports betting in the US, and a one-day event on Capitol Hill about the topic.
Silver deserves at least some of the credit for changing the narrative with his article. But where are we today?
Would the major US pro sports leagues be where they are — which is a world where they range from tolerating to accepting regulated sports betting — without Silver? That’s difficult to know.
But it’s also easy to see Silver’s op-ed making it easier for them to pivot/evolve because Silver did it first.
We have NHL and NFL franchises in or coming to Las Vegas. We have other commissioners openly talking about sports betting, an issue that was previously taboo or held at arm’s length.
That’s something difficult to envision before Silver opened the door.
In 1992, when PASPA made it through Congress and banned single-game wagering outside of Nevada, sports betting was considered the scourge of game integrity.
Today, that’s not the case for the regulated sports betting market. The data and scrutiny surrounding sporting leagues and regulated sites provides a more transparent and trustworthy environment than the massive market for offshore sports betting sites.
That’s not to mention we’ve seen a variety of polls that show a majority of people think sports betting should be legal.
If nothing else, Silver helped normalize the notion that regulation of sports betting is better than what we have now.
I am not sure how much credit Silver deserves for this development. States are stirring to action on legalization and regulation of sports betting because of the prospect of New Jersey winning its case, not because of what Silver said. And the momentum for sports betting in Congress remains a trickle as the New Jersey delegation calls for action.
But we now have a new law on the books in Pennsylvania, and momentum in states including, but not limited to:
We are in a bit of a state of limbo for the next half year or so. The Supreme Court will hear the NJ case in December; a decision is expected in the first half of 2018.
That case could change things for sports betting in the US in a hurry. A declaration from the nation’s highest court that PASPA is unconstitutional could mean other states could follow NJ’s lead and regulate sports gambling. A win for the pro sports leagues — the NBA included — would mean the status quo persists for now.
Either way, the future of sports betting will turn in many ways on what Adam Silver, the NBA and the other pro sports leagues do next, both with their words and their actions.