NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Stumps for Legalized Sports Betting

You may not remember, but there was once a period of time when there was a hard push on Capitol Hill to legalize online poker on the federal level. Back then, we looked to Senator Barney Frank as our savior and though he tried hard and argued like a champ, he wasn’t able to push anything over the top.

Senator Harry Reid was seen as our great hope, as well, but not only could he not get anything done, he eventually turned against the cause. And that might be where legalized sports betting proponents — and I am one, as well as obviously being strongly pro-poker — have it over online poker fans: their support is coming from prominent figures outside of Washington, D.C. In particular, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has once again spoken out, expressing his support for legal, regulated sports wagering across the United States.

NBA logoThis is not new for Silver; three years ago, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times giving his thoughts on the matter, and he’s done so on a number of occasions since. The latest instance came this week with Mike Golic and Trey Wingo on ESPN Radio’s “Golic and Wingo” show. (Yes, sports fans, after a decade and a half, Mike Golic has a new radio partner – “Mike and Mike” is no more.) There, among other topics, Silver reiterated his desire to see sports betting legalized. His basic message: people do it anyway, so let’s make it safe and let’s make some money off of it.

His comments come with the backdrop of the New Jersey sports betting case which is set to be heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court next week. The reason we don’t see sports wagering anywhere except Nevada (technically Oregon, Montana, and Delaware have it, too, but Nevada is the only state with traditional sports betting) is because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which outlawed it nationally. Those four states were grandfathered in. New Jersey could have also been grandfathered in, but opted not to.

As time has gone on, New Jersey has wanted to get a sports wagering industry going, and though the state’s residents even voted for a referendum to do so, the four major sports professional leagues and the NCAA would sue at every turn, saying New Jersey would be violating PASPA if it legalized sports betting. New Jersey feels that it should be allowed to make its own decisions on the matter, just like states can do with other forms of gambling, so now the issue is going to the Supreme Court.

And though the NBA has fought New Jersey on the matter, Silver said to Golic and Wingo, “We defended that law against Gov. Christie, that began before I became commissioner, largely because at least now our view is that it should not be regulated state-by-state, that there should be federal legislation; that it is proper for Congress to address this issue.”

He continued, saying that he is breaking from previous commissioners, feeling that sports betting should be legalized and regulated. Said Silver, “Because it’s not to me an issue of whether I am ‘pro’ or ‘con’ sports betting. We know now that it goes on, largely underground, hundreds of billions of dollars are bet every year just in the US on sports betting.”

Silver added, “It’s legal in most other jurisdictions in the world, particularly in Europe, where people bet on their smart phones throughout soccer games, it’s closely regulated, they can monitor if there’s an irregularity activity, something we cannot do right now because it’s largely all illegal.”

Silver, though, still doesn’t totally agree with New Jersey. New Jersey is fighting for its right to launch sports betting in the state, whereas Silver wants legalized sports betting to be “federal policy” and “be consistent from state to state.”

States could then have the option to opt out of sports betting if they so desire.

Silver’s concern with state-by-state regulation is, “… in terms of the monitoring of it, the integrity for the sports leagues… that if you have 50 states all competing against each other, it could be a bit of a race to the bottom in terms of ultimately how to do the best job protecting consumers, the people who place the bets, and protecting the integrity of our league.”

Now, I am definitely with Adam Silver on wanting sports betting (as well as online poker) to just be legalized nationally, but I also believe his concern is overblown. New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada have all shown that having individual, state-by-state regulation can work just fine, so there is really no reason to believe sports betting would be much different. In fact – and this is just me spit-balling – it could be easier, what with the lack of random number generators, peer-to-peer competition, match-making, etc.

Silver seemed confident that sports betting regulation will make headway, even if its later rather than sooner.

“I think even if the Supreme Court leaves in place the existing federal law, there seems to be a lot of interest in Congress in favor of addressing the issue,” he told the radio hosts. “And I think in part because states see that this exists, and they figure they might as well regulate it and collect tax money on it, frankly.”

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