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Legal Sports Report

Last Week In Sports Betting News: The Fix Is In, At Least For Lawmakers Working On Bills

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Hello ladies and gents, and happy Monday once again. We’ll try to keep it tight this week so we can all go about our business.

If you need some background noise, the most recent episode of the LSR Podcast touches on most of the same topics you’re about to read. Press play and press on.

Listen to “LSR Podcast Ep.25 – First Numbers from Indiana & an Early Look at Next Week at G2E” on Spreaker.

Mob still trying to fix games?

Match fixing and organized crime have historically been intertwined in the US, a tradition which is apparently ongoing.

A grand jury indictment unsealed this week accuses Benjamin Bifalco of attempted sports bribery in association with New York mafia. Federal prosecutors allege that Bifalco “did knowingly and intentionally attempt to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by bribery a sporting contest …”

Details are sparse, but per the filing:

  • The alleged incident took place in or around December 2018.
  • The game was a NCAA Division I basketball game.
  • The attempt was not successful.

The purported fix attempt came to light during a series of wiretaps executed against the Columbo crime family of La Cosa Nostra. Bifalco is tied to alleged capo Joseph Amato and 18 other defendants via a long list of crimes that includes racketeering and extortion.

The news spawned some chilly takes on social media, but match fixing remains a legitimate concern in 2019. Like most vices, regulating sports gambling provides more tools to expose bad actors and disincentive crime — particularly organized crime — than prohibition.

As Dustin Gouker wrote: “Organized crime organizations generally book wagers themselves, and will often use offshore websites to help book those bets.”

Our sports law scholar John Holden offered some legal insight into the indictment this week.

Ohio sports betting hearings

Ohio doesn’t have legal sports betting yet, but it might be on its way.

Lawmakers in the Buckeye State spent two more days discussing a sports betting bill from Rep. Dave Greenspan this week, churning through several hours of testimony from industry stakeholders.

There are two key decisions to make in the short term:

  • Should the lottery or the casino commission act as the regulator for Ohio sports betting?
  • Should sports leagues be empowered/enriched with additional fees and data requirements?

The first question is very much up in the air, as the governor is among those backing a competing bill in the Senate. Last week’s hearing did, however, go a long way toward settling the second question.

Requests from PGA Tour representative Andy Levinson were met unfavorably, as were his claims that regulated sportsbooks seek to cheat customers by using “inaccurate data.” Levinson worked to convey the notion that monopolizing official data is a simple exercise in capitalism, a line that did not sit well with at least one member of House Finance.

“That’s where capitalism and free markets end, is monopolies,” Rep. Jim Butler scolded, “and that’s why this is an issue.”

Apart from limited mandates in Illinois and Tennessee, no state has required the use of official league data for sports betting. Still, the PGA and its like-minded leagues — the NHL and MLB — do not support the Ohio bill as written.

Indiana sports betting revenue

Indiana sports betting just began in September, and officials there were among the first to publish results for the month.

The 10 active sportsbooks took more than $35 million in bets during their first month of operation, yielding $8.5 million in combined revenue. As with all states that use the “cash reporting” system, futures wagers in Indiana can artificially inflate that hold to almost 25%. Straight NCAA and NFL football bets account for well more than half of the total action.

As for early trends, it looks like the Chicagoland sportsbooks are going to be the big winners. Geography and a case of regulatory foot-dragging in neighboring Illinois forces bettors to leave to get down, driving traffic to border spots like Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar.

It’ll be a few months before the market hits its stride, so it’s too early to read much more into the numbers than that. Things are happening fast, though.

Five more retail sportsbooks have already opened their windows in October, and the addition of online betting should provide a truer glimpse at the market’s potential. Both BetRivers and FanDuel Sportsbook are now available statewide, both offering fully remote registration.

Reminder: You can track sports betting revenue for all US states here.

Sports betting takes and tidbits

Here’s what else happened around the industry this week:

  • On the record: Our friends at PlayUSA had a long chat with Ronnie Jones about the progress toward legalization in Louisiana. The state’s top regulator expects to see lawmakers take another crack at sports betting next year, hopefully with a better result than the 2019 snafu.
  • Iowa DFS launch: The new law in Iowa authorizes fantasy sports too, but regulators rightly prioritized the launch of sports betting first. Six weeks into the NFL season, it now sounds like DraftKings and FanDuel are finally on the cusp of approval.
  • Mountaineers climbing: With the recent (re-)addition of online betting, West Virginia handle has been growing from week-to-week all season long. The WVU bye finally slowed that trend last week, but DraftKings and FanDuel have breathed new life into the hungry market.
  • Reduce the juice?: Baseball is a game of data, and new data indicates that postseason baseballs fly about 5 feet shorter than balls used during the regular season. The findings raise questions about the balls themselves and the cited justification for league involvement in sports betting, namely to ensure consistency and integrity.

We’re at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas this week, so expect to see some content from there over the next few days. We’re also recording the podcast on-site on Wednesday, so come say hello if you find yourself roaming the halls of the Sands Expo Center.

Have a good week, y’all.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.

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