Pro sports leagues are ramping up their lobbying efforts in a bid to shape the future of sports betting in the US.
A review of lobbying registrations around the country reveals half a dozen states where the NBA and MLB are trying to throw their weight around. It might be the most recent sign that they’re pessimistic about their chances of winning in the New Jersey sports betting case.
As state lawmakers weigh the issues, they’re going to be faced with heavy demands from the league lobbyists.
MLB and NBA lobby together
The MLB and the NBA appear to have formed a lobbying alliance.
In the past, many leagues in the US have been among the most vocal opponents of expanded sports betting. New Jersey has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court trying to amend its own laws on the matter, and the leagues (NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and NCAA) continue to litigate in opposition.
But they aren’t lobbying against legalization anymore. Not across the board, at least.
At a recent hearing about New York sports betting, lawyers from the NBA revealed a change in the league’s stance. The NBA (and MLB) will now support legislation that meets these five inclusions:
- Detects and prevents improper betting conduct
- Pays one percent of betting handle to the leagues
- Allows leagues to restrict wagering on their events
- Includes consumer protections for bettors
- Includes internet and mobile betting
Some of the points are widely agreeable, but there are a couple brazen demands in there, too.
The two leagues now appear as if they will only back sports betting bills that cut them in to the tune of one percent of handle (aka the total amount wagered) in any state. These “integrity fees” would be used to ensure the games and the betting surrounding them were being conducted fairly, according to the leagues. They also want the ability to govern wagering on their own games. So far this has only shown up in bill language in one state.
The MLB and NBA have hired lobbying support in at least six states where registrations are publicly viewable, so far. Many more will likely follow.
They’re primarily relying on lobbying firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, which has been instrumental in getting daily fantasy sports legislation to the finish line around the country.
It’s just the early wave of what figures to be a busy stretch for gaming lobbyists and lawyers across the country.
Current NBA/MLB lobbying efforts
Here’s what we know so far:
Indiana’s bill was the first to reveal the work of the leagues’ lobbyists. The proposal from Rep. Alan Morrison included some language that will likely be repeated in states across the country, if the MLB and NBA have their way.
For Indiana specifically, though, the NCAA might be the key to the discussion.
The collegiate body is headquartered in Indianapolis and holds a great deal of influence with lawmakers. It hasn’t really injected itself into the state’s conversation yet — at least publicly — but it did play a key role in its Indiana’s DFS law. Under pressure from the NCAA, the state was the first to exclude DFS contests based on collegiate events.
Sen. Jon Ford also has a sports betting bill on file in his chamber. Ford’s bill currently does not include the integrity fees, nor does it exempt betting on collegiate sports. The American Gaming Association has said it will fight against any carve-out around college sports betting.
Both Indiana bills are currently in their first stops in their respective committees.
Registrations: NBA | MLB | All lobbyists on sports betting bill
Iowa’s sports betting bill has attracted a lot of attention from lobbyists. More than 60 of them representing dozens of stakeholders are attached to it.
The state has been building momentum toward legalization over the past few months, it seems. The president of the state’s gaming association gave his nod late last year, and gubernatorial candidate Ron Corbett has made sports betting a focus of his upcoming endeavors.
In January, Rep. Ken Rizer submitted a sports betting bill as the culmination of those rumblings. The proposal would allow the state’s casinos and horse racing tracks to offers sports betting, both in person and online. Most of the gaming lobbyists are either in support or undecided on the measure so far.
Not the leagues, though. They’re against it, as it doesn’t include the items on their wish list — most notably the integrity fees.
Kansas is pursuing sports betting, too.
A short committee bill was introduced last month for the first time. The bill contains very little in terms of regulatory language so far, but it does expressly permit betting on both professional and amateur events.
The proposal would allow the state’s horse racing tracks to offer betting. That’s curious, as the state doesn’t actually have any active horse racing tracks. It hasn’t held a pari-mutuel race since 2008. It does have both commercial and tribal casinos, but they’re not included in the first version of this bill.
Apparently, the leagues are taking the state’s early attempt seriously. Orrick’s lobbying efforts in Kansas are underpinned by another firm, Catalyst.
Catalyst is a league lobbying partner in one other state, too. Missouri recently kicked off its sports betting effort with the introduction of a bill by Rep. Bart Korman. And it’s already been met by league lobbyists.
Korman’s bill is also very brief, but it does contain one surprising provision. In addition to the state’s 13 riverboat casinos, licensed daily fantasy sports operators would be permitted to conduct sports betting under the proposal. Missouri legalized DFS in 2016.
The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee.
Registrations: NBA | MLB
New York could be the biggest battleground for sports betting at the state level.
All four professional sports leagues are headquartered in New York and have multiple teams who play within its borders. It was the stage on which the NBA chose to unveil its new list of demands for lawmakers. So far, proposed legislation in the Empire State leaves the leagues out in the cold, though, with no mention of integrity fees.
Sports betting has already been legalized at the state’s commercial casinos, but lawmakers still have a lot of work to do to create the framework for the industry. League lobbyists have jumped into the conversation in search of their piece of the pie.
Rhode Island is passed over in many ways, but it won’t be overlooked when it comes to sports betting. The nation’s smallest state is ambitious when it comes to gaming, and it’s among the early contenders for sports betting.
Last month, Sen. Dominick Ruggerio introduced a bill that would allow sports betting at the state’s two casinos. It would permit betting on most collegiate sports, except for those hosted in Rhode Island or involving its teams’ away games. There’s no mention of integrity fees or allowing leagues to restrict those wagers.
It’s fairly safe to say that Rhode Island will legalize sports betting if it’s given the opportunity. Gov. Gina Raimondo has already allocated $23.5 million in sports betting revenue in her budget proposal.
Orrick is joined by former state Sen. Stephen Alves in lobbying for the leagues in Rhode Island.
Of all the states, though, West Virginia might be the best positioned to launch a sports betting industry.
It has been exploring the issue for a couple years now, and those efforts have culminated in a handful of bills on the subject. Bills are being considered in committee today. Legal Sports Report is aware that both NBA and MLB are lobbying in the state although their registrations don’t appear online, yet.
The most recent proposals have the support of the state Lottery Commission and a lot of lawmakers in the statehouse. Proposed legislation avoids integrity fees or any restrictions on betting, which the leagues are challenging.