US sports the gatekeeper for online sports betting regulation

US sports the gatekeeper for online sports betting regulation

Monday, August 22, 2016 Posted by Andy McCarron
Darren Adam Heitner discusses the possibility of legalised betting in the US

If the US sports were to get behind online sports betting, then the pathway to federal legislation would be more open, according to lawyer Darren Adam Heitner, but while the NBA and MLB might be coming around to that way of thinking, the NFL might not even be at the table.

Heitner, who runs his own law firm Heitner Legal, believes that it is the Lead Commissioners of these US sports that are the gatekeeper to legal sports betting, which is effectively banned almost everywhere in the country under PASPA – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

While PASPA was implemented to make sure there were no corruption scandals related to betting, the ubiquity of opportunity provided by the internet is making some of the sports believe that it is no longer fit for purpose.

In an interview with TotallyGaming.com at this year’s GIGSE event, Heitner explained: “We’ve started to see commissioners such as the NBA commissioner Adam Silver say ‘let’s stop lying to ourselves, if we care about the integrity of the game we need to do something about this massive amount of illegal wagers and maybe allow for it but under a very strong regulatory scheme’. And so if that starts to be picked up by a major league baseball commissioner, NHL and then the hardest one, the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, then maybe we will get somewhere.”

It seems that the integrity argument that is key and the thinking is if the gambling industry could persuade some of the key sports that legalising betting would actually improve the current situation then progress could be made. That is assuming that the sports are actually coming from a position of integrity, of course, and not some sort of protectionism.

Heitner commented: “It’s always about integrity of the game; you look at the beginnings of PASPA and that language is there as well as a justification and for a purpose of having it in place. So certainly that’s been the rhetoric that’s been pushed by the leagues. The question is, maybe, is it real? And is it authentic? And I think it’s very hard to justify in a world where it’s so easy to circumvent whatever protections may be in place against illegal gambling.

“We see it right in front of our eyes where almost 99% of the bets that are wagered on the Super Bowl are made illegally, so if you care about the integrity you want it under your control, you want it regulated. I think consumers would prefer going through a regulated system when it comes to sports bets as opposed to using either individuals as bookies or going to these offshore sites where they may not feel extremely secure in, firstly, receiving funds when they want it as fast as they want it and, secondly, there may be a concern that they are breaking the law.”

Integrity aside, it could also be argued that there is a sound business case for supporting betting, as it makes the sporting events much more compelling, but Heitner said it’s hard to speculate on the issue. “That’s sort of the thinking behind why the NFL at first was against fantasy sports, but then actually went into bed with fantasy sports in a variety of aspects -  in fact creating a fantasy sports channel. So on one hand you would think that the leagues would embrace it because it would attract more people and for longer periods of time.

“Perhaps, purely speculating, the issue is that the NFL and certain other leagues have not yet figured out how they can directly monetise betting and so that may be the hold up and it’s the NFL and the other leagues that want to discover and be prepared for it so that if in fact it does amount to something and sports betting is legalised in the US that they can fully take advantage of it from day one.”

Heitner said that MLB would be the most likely to follow the NBA in its support for betting regulation. “I think it’s pretty clear that major league baseball is following in the footsteps,” he said. “First of all you see Major League Baseball entering into a very sweeping deal with DraftKings and the one concern is that it’s been criticised a bit for maybe not conducting full due diligence before the deal was reached but there you see a willingness to go into a grey area.

“Secondly; you look at the commissioner statements over the past year and he even admits that there have been discussions internally or that there were planned discussions to talk about sports betting and whether there have been shifts within this industry over the years and how teams in the league should react so my pure guess would be that MLB would be the next league to join the NBA in rethinking this whole thing.”

Totally Gaming Says: It seems that the NFL are the big roadblock when it comes to sports betting, but for how long? The league will have a franchise in Las Vegas soon and has been working hard to exploit the UK market, possibly the most liberally regulated gambling market in the world, with several regular season matches being held in London. Perhaps, with proximity, the contempt for betting will recede.

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