Sports betting is currently illegal in every state except Nevada (and, in some limited form, Delaware, Oregon and Montana).  While some states including, recently, New Jersey, have attempted to legalize sports betting within their respective borders, federal courts have consistently overturned such legislation as being in violation of the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

The NCAA, and all four major professional sports leagues – Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) – have championed enforcement of PASPA, and have been the driving force in connection with legal actions opposing such state-based efforts at legalization.  The historical opposition of professional sports leagues to sports betting may be evolving, however.

In November of 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote a groundbreaking Op-Ed in the New York Timescalling for the adoption of uniform, federal regulations permitting sports gambling. Earlier this week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred joined Silver’s call.

MLB Takes a Swing at Sports Betting Legalization

Manfred specifically mentioned the NBA Commissioner’s position in remarks to Bloomberg: “I give Adam Silver a lot of credit for starting the debate . . . .  Without embracing everything he said, certainly the idea of having a federal system to govern gambling — whatever that system is — uniformity at a federal level seems like a pretty good idea to me.”

While the NHL’s Gary Bettman and the NFL’s Roger Goodell have not, to date, endorsed the path advocated by Silver and Manfred, the fact that two of the “big four” have openly endorsed a framework for sports betting legalization is rather significant.

Going, Going, Gone?

While Manfred does support the adoption of a federal framework for legalization of sports gambling, that does not mean that MLB – or the NBA for that matter – will necessarily cease efforts to enforce PASPA in connection with ad hoc efforts by individual states to legalize sports betting. The desire for a uniform, consistent legal standard underlying the public statements from Manfred and Silver would not necessarily rule out the continued embrace of PASPA until such a federal legal regime were adopted.

The increasing acceptance of sports betting comes at a time where all four leagues are also warming to the idea of fantasy sports played for money – with each league either partnering with key fantasy sports venues, or promoting their own offerings. These developments, proceeding in tandem, could indicate a significant sea change.

Undoubtedly, the ongoing evolution of support for legalized sports betting from officials in charge of the major professional sports leagues warrants continued attention from gaming attorneys, and those interested in sports betting in general.