You can feel the tipping point. It happened with gay marriage in June 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the law banning federal benefits for married same-sex couples. From that point on, state-sanctioned same-sex marriage was inevitable. You can feel it coming with legalized marijuana. Penalties for simple possession have gone from life imprisonment to — in California and 17 other states — a parking ticket, to outright legal in four states with many more to come. And now you can see the tipping point coming with sports betting.
Last November, NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, the heart of which was, “...the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”
Earlier in the piece, Silver dropped the reason for this change of heart, “...some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.” Whatever the true figure, it’s too much money to ignore.
Still, it was just one rookie commissioner calling for legalized sports betting and it was a commissioner of the NBA, which is regarded as junior to the NFL and baseball’s major leagues. But, it’s another thing entirely when baseball commissioner Rob Manfred comes alongside, if not onboard. Manfred, interviewed on Outside the Lines, said, “Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization. I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.” Okay, that was a wandering, mealy-mouthed statement, but for a baseball commissioner, whose job was created as a result of a gambling scandal, this is a huge step.
We have already come a long way. Only six months ago the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, NHL, and NCAA, the United Front of Big-Time Sports, sued the governor of New Jersey, demanding he stop attempting to institute legal sports betting. Christie had issued a directive declaring sports betting in casinos and race tracks no longer illegal. The United Front said the notice was “astounding,” “specious,” and a “blatant violation” of a previous court order.
Six months pass and the NBA endorses sports betting, the baseball league wants to talk about it. The United Front doesn’t seem so united anymore.
Where we are now: the controlling statute is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which prohibits states from regulating sports betting unless they already have sports betting. Nevada was grandfathered in with full sportsbooks. Oregon, Montana, and Delaware were allowed to keep limited sports betting.
Silver, and to a lesser extent Manfred, have begun to turn the argument from “No way!” to “How?” Once that argument is turned, it’s only a matter of time.
It took the slow, incremental creep of society to get here. Like Prohibition and marijuana, people stopped obeying the law (see if it takes more than two minutes to establish an account with Bovada, BetOnline, topbet, CarbonSports, or SportsBetting). Then, authorities quit applying the law (when was the last time you heard of a citizen being arrested for placing a bet with a bookie?), and finally, bringing up the rear, new laws are passed legalizing sports betting in one form or another.
The big dog in the room is the NFL who remains adamantly opposed to sports betting, even though the NFL is already associated with gambling. NFL teams have had licensing deals with state-sponsored lotteries since 2009. According to a 2014 Sporting News report, “Two years ago, the NFL approved limited casino advertising for teams. That’s right, although the league’s official list of prohibited advertising categories includes ‘gambling-related advertising,’ the league allowed individual clubs to accept casino ads in game programs, on limited signs at stadiums, and on local radio stations,” and, “Meanwhile, the league continues to charge Vegas casinos to carry the live feed of games in their sports books.”
The NFL/Goodell party line is that the league must produce honest games that are seen to be honest by the public. Let in gamblers and the whole damn thing falls apart.
Which is funny, since the NFL would love to put a team in London and has been playing regular season games there since 2007. According to Campaign for Fairer Gambling, a nonprofit campaigning against Fixed Odds Betting Terminals — think roulette, bingo, horseracing, greyhound racing — there are 1836 betting shops in Greater London. That city is a cesspool of gambling vice.
Vegas.com lists 63 sportsbooks in Greater Las Vegas. Commissioner Goodell should reflect upon the integrity of the shield, forget London, and place the next NFL franchise in a town with American values.