Sports Gambling Is Evolving More Rapidly Than Expected

This Oct 25, 2018 photo shows the odds board at the sports book at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gamblers bet $260 million on sports in New Jersey in October, bringing the total to nearly $600 million since mid-June. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

Professional and collegiate sports have historically feared one practice most heavily over anything else: gambling. The threat has been that if an athlete, official or coach became ensconced in major gambling debt, they might accept a bribe from a gambler to alter their performance.

Fan confidence in sports is based on the premise that the games are played on a level playing field. Two heavily motivated teams giving peak performance playing with the same rules and officiating. Any hint that the games were somehow “fixed” could lead to sports being seen as an entertainment, not a competition, like wrestling.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to a question about the biggest threat to the integrity of his sport in 2012 “Gambling would be number one on my list.” Pro leagues would not even consider a franchise in Las Vegas, for fear of the proximity to legal gambling, until the NHL Golden Knights were awarded a franchise. Players were warned to report any contact with gamblers. The NFL and other leagues spent significant money lobbying for the continuation of the 1992 Professional and Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which outlawed sports gambling.

An attitudinal sea change occurred last May when Murphy v. NCAA challenged the federal prohibition against gambling embodied in PASPA. The Supreme Court ruled that if Congress does not directly regulate sports wagering then the power to do so would be reserved for the states. All of a sudden New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Rhode Island passed bills legalizing gambling while many other states are working towards legalization. This decision creates a world of new possibilities.

Currently, there is an Oklahoma Land Rush underway to secure future positions in gambling by leagues and franchises. Could universities also enter the action? Perhaps. Additional revenue could prove to be too much to overlook. Revenue streams include data rights, advertising, rating boosts, and the potential of a team or stadium as a bookie. According to Sara Slane, Senior VP of PR for the American Gaming Association, the four major sports leagues could see a boost of earning of $4.2 billion from gambling. The MLB, NHL, and NBA have already struck deals to make MGM Resorts the first official gaming partner. Both the MLB and NHL hold equity states in daily fantasy sports book hybrid Draft Kings and the NFL and NBA have close partnerships with FanDuel and Draft Kings. After the NFL changed their rules to allow franchises to accept advertising from casinos with sportsbooks in late August, the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys were quick to cash in on the new opportunity. The Jets and Cowboys struck deals with MGM and WinStar, respectively, that made each respective casino the official gaming partner of their clubs.

The NFL has now changed the personal conduct policy to allow players to legally gamble on sports other than football. What happened to the fear of compromised players? Perhaps, a revenue boost was all that was needed to mitigate this fear. However, not all fears have been mitigated. Major concerns do still linger about the social cost of legalization and the susceptibility of college athletes to illegal gambling tactics.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, might we see a culture where in-seat gambling via mobile phone on live odds such as play calls, at-bat outcomes, and possession results becomes a norm? Perhaps. Could more options to bet potentially create more gambling addicts or even a situation where kids at a game partake in gambling decision making with their parent? Possibly. Will this become a societal problem? Only time will tell. What is known is that the developments and ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in this brave new world are occurring on a daily basis with new sponsorships, partnerships, and agreements being reached with warp speed in order to claim a piece of a very lucrative pie.

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