Yesterday marked the arrival of opening day of the 2015 season for most Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. Aside from the aspirations of the various players, coaches and fans, the upcoming season contains promise of a slightly different nature: the possible loosening of sports betting laws.
What is happening in the world of sports betting?
In November of 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver penned a noteworthy Op-Ed in the New York Times calling for the adoption of consistent, uniform, federal regulations permitting sports gambling. Last month, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred endorsed Silver’s framework.
MLB Open to Sports Betting Legalization
Sports betting is currently illegal in every state except Nevada (with some limited exceptions in Delaware, Oregon and Montana). While some states including, recently, New Jersey, have attempted to legalize sports gambling within their respective borders, federal courts have consistently struck down 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 – MLB, the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) – have been the primary force behind the legal actions invoking PASPA in opposition to state-based efforts at legalization.
The historical opposition of professional sports leagues, and the key role that they have played in associated legal challenges, makes the recent public shifts from Manfred and Silver so newsworthy.
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 NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NFL Commissioner 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.
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 endorsement by Manfred and Silver of a uniform, consistent legal standard does not preclude the continued embrace of PASPA until such a federal legal framework were adopted.
Fantasy Sports Booming
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.
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.