Future Of Sports Betting In U.S. Comes Into Focus With ESPN Report, AGA Advocacy Effort

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Sports betting in focus

Super Bowl 50 is less than two weeks away. When the biggest game in U.S. sports takes place between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers in February, an estimated $4.2 billion will be wagered by Americans on the outcome of the game, according to the American Gaming Association.

Almost all of that money will be wagered illegally, the AGA claims — about 97 percent of it.

The upcoming Super Bowl and today’s report about sports betting at ESPN’s Outside the Lines point to the fact that sports betting is already engrained in the lives of Americans and that regulation makes far more sense than prohibition moving forward.

The two reports also serve as a reminder that the next few years could be crucial if regulated sports betting is to make headway in the U.S.

The AGA’s sports betting push

It seems like nearly every year now, we hear about how much money is bet illegally on sports, particularly the Super Bowl. The AGA is one of the interests that is now attempting to lead the charge into legalized and regulated sports betting in the U.S.

Last year, the AGA says just $115 million was bet legally in the U.S. on the New England Patriots-Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl. The data shows that the efficacy of a “ban” on sports betting in the U.S. is nearly non-existent.

From an AGA press release this week:

“As Americans celebrate a milestone Super Bowl, they’ll also bet a record amount on the Big Game,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA. “Just like football, sports betting has never been more popular than it is today. The casino gaming industry is leading the conversation around a new approach to sports betting that enhances consumer protections, strengthens the integrity of games and recognizes fans’ desire for greater engagement with sports.”

In November, the AGA indicated  that it was building “a broad coalition that will determine whether a rational alternative to current sports betting law exists. Such an alternative could include strict regulation, rigorous consumer protections and robust tools for law enforcement to eliminate illegal sports betting and strengthen the integrity of games.”

The AGA’s public stance comes as the casino industry believes that its interests aren’t best served in limiting sports betting to the states grandfathered in under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The AGA also recently launched an advocacy website.

Under PASPA, Nevada is the only state allowed to offer single-sport betting. Limited sports betting occurs in both Delaware and Montana; Oregon is allowed to offer some sports betting under PASPA, but does not per an agreement with the NCAA.

Leagues and their sports betting relationships

An Outside the Lines report was published on Thursday, headlined “Betting on the come: Leagues strike deals with gambling-related firms.”

The report details the increasing number of relationships that the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL have with sports betting. From ESPN:

To varying degrees, the leagues are partnering — openly and in secret — with oddsmakers, betting prognosticators and data providers that make sports wagering possible in the digital age, according to interviews with a range of sports gambling officials and experts.

While the leagues do not openly say that they are behind legalized sports betting — other than NBA Commissioner Adam Silver — their actions seem to paint a different picture, the ESPN report concludes. To wit, per ESPN:

Robert Melendres, a longtime gambling executive who is iPro’s CEO, said he understood the NFL’s sensitivity. Asked if he believes the NFL is opposed to gambling, he laughed.

“I respect their position. I just take it at face value,” Melendres said.

The latest example that the leagues don’t view sports betting as the bogeyman — MLB is about to join the NBA and the NFL in playing games in a jurisdiction where sports betting is done openly, in the U.K.

The OTL report also touches on the relationships between the leagues and daily fantasy sports sites — which many identify as just another type of gambling or sports betting. The DFS industry sprung up under the idea that its contests are games of skill in the wake of the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and the fantasy sports carveout found in its language.

On tap: the New Jersey sports betting case

All of the chatter surrounding sports betting comes just a few weeks before one of the most important moments for the industry’s future in America: the rehearing of a case in which New Jersey is attempting to offer sports betting within its borders.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals will sit “en banc” to consider the case in which the North American pro sports leagues and the NCAA are trying to stop New Jersey from allowing sports betting.

Observers put New Jersey’s chances at anywhere from a slight favorite to a big underdog, based on the judges that will hear the case. A verdict in the appeal is expected later this year.

A loss for NJ would mean the status quo of a sports betting prohibition is likely to persist for the immediate future. A victory could result in a possible rapid expansion of legal sports betting in jurisdictions across the U.S.

The outcome of the case is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the conversation about sports betting, and how to handle it, is not going away.