National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver’s November 13, 2014, op/ed in the New York Times supporting the legalization and regulation of sports betting is a game changer. For decades, the professional and amateur sports leagues have resisted any form of legalized gambling on their games in the United States. In fact, they have often led legislative efforts to restrict legalized gambling of all types. Now, calling for a “different approach,” Mr. Silver has reset the debate.
The NBA’s new position will impact legislative efforts to legalize and regulate Internet gambling. The unwavering support of the professional sports leagues was a critical factor in the passage, enactment and implementation of the most recent federal gaming statute, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, a law designed to cut the money flow from individual gamblers to Internet gambling sites.
In the wake of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion in 2011 that opened the door for states to authorize Web-based, non-sports gambling within their borders, policymakers are grappling with how best to respond. Since then, the only consensus in Congress has been that the federal government should not authorize sports betting. Four Internet gambling bills have been introduced during the 113th Congress which ends next month. Two of them would expand gambling; two would restrict it severely. Because of the leagues’ previously unwavering opposition to the legalization of sports gambling and the leagues’ significant political clout on Capitol Hill, none of the bills would have authorized sports betting.
In recent years, some of the leagues looked to preempt the states and limit the types of games that could be offered online to just poker, but Mr. Silver’s op/ed shows that the NBA is now willing to go much further. “Poker only” bills might now be a thing of the past. Because the NBA, a powerful and well-connected opponent to liberalized gaming laws, has flipped, expect many in the House of Representatives and the Senate – most of whom were not in Congress in 2006 – to reevaluate their positions as well.