Are major sports leagues in the US becoming more sanguine over legalized sports betting?

  • As the New Jersey Supreme Court approaches, major sports leagues in the States are preparing the field
  • Social concerns and sports integrity remain the most important issues moving forward

All four major US sports leagues, the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL, are officially against New Jersey’s challenge to overturn the federal ban on sports betting before the Supreme Court next week.

The possible classification of fantasy sports as gambling in Massachusetts could be a blow to the the industry.
Sports betting in the US could be huge and the barriers to it seem to be getting smaller.

However, three of these four major players seem to be playing both sides, leaving the door open in the event New Jersey wins and the infamous PASPA is brought down.

The NFL firm in its position

Of all these four leagues, only the NFL has been firm in their position that the federal ban on sports betting should remain in place. The NFL representatives have not budged even in the face of criticism coming from those calling the hypocrites. These critics are particularly vocal because the Raiders have announced their plans to move their stadium close to the famous Las Vegas Strip.

The rest, however, seem open to all options, despite their official stance. This is especially true for the NBA, whose Vice President Dan Spillane recently expressed his view that proper legislation could be the right way to go, clearly indicating the NBA is not against sports betting as long as it is done right.

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Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, came out saying that gambling isn’t a big issue for the league, since people bet substantially more on other sports. At the same time, MLB’s Rob Manfred believes that legalized sports betting could actually help the popularity of the sport, making it more appealing for the fans.

Clearly, although they are officially against the legislation, it seems major leagues are preparing for life with regular sports betting.

Wider acceptance for fantasy sports

Apart from sports betting, fantasy sports has been another issue that’s been discussed at lengths in the US, and major sports leagues seem supportive. Unlike betting, fantasy sports represent more of a skill-based activity, because those playing are paid according to the performance of individual athletes.

Certain states, like Delaware and Nevada, have proper legislations in place. New Jersey is challenging the constitutionality of PASPA, the act which set the current scene, asking a good question. Namely, what gives some states the right to be different from the rest when it comes to these issues?

There is a decent chance the Supreme Court will see things Governor Christie’s way and rule that it is unconstitutional for certain states to be treated different from the rest in this matter. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to a wide acceptance on sports betting or an overall ban, which is the result no one wants to see.

Social concerns and potential adverse effects

Whenever the topic of legal, state-sponsored gambling is discussed, there are always concerns raised about potential social harms.

Certain religious and anti-gambling groups put forth the argument that this would give gambling companies a clear path to prey on the most vulnerable and take advantage of them.

They claim the legislation would lead to a lot of problems, which would end up hurting even those who don’t gamble at all, as they would be the ones covering the bill for the consequences left behind by the industry.

However, this argument doesn’t account for the unregulated wagering that already happens. Although sports betting is largely illegal in the States, it is estimated that US citizens wager around $150 billon on sports every year. Of all these bets, only around 3% are made legally.

The other concern addressing match fixing is also not very strong. In fact, many argue that it would be much easier to monitor, prevent, and punish match fixing in a regulated environment, thanks to new technologies gathering and compiling data.

Leagues are primarily concerned that legislators could introduce sports betting without these necessary protective measures in place.

That’s why they’d rather see a comprehensive approach to the entire matter instead of one giving states a free reign to do what they like. That kind of approach would ensure the integrity of sports, which is a major concern at this point in time.

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