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Sports Leagues’ Players Associations Issue Statement on Possible Sports Betting Legalization

We already know that the professional sports leagues in the United States want a piece of the action if sports betting is legalized – even if that means it has to be regulated on a state-by-state basis – and now it looks like the players associations want in, as well. On Thursday, April 12th, the players associations from the four major professional leagues released a joint statement, saying they want a “seat at the table.”

To review, sports betting is outlawed in the United States except in Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). States that had regulated casino gambling for the ten years leading up to PASPA were giving the opportunity to be grandfathered into sports betting, but only the four above mentioned states opted in. (Nevada, though, is the only one with traditional, odds-based sports wagering that we all know and love.)

NBA logoIn recent years, as New Jersey has looked to bolster its flagging gambling economy (it’s actually been rebounding very well lately), it has sought to legalize sports betting. State voters approved such a move via referendum and the legislature has passed bills on the matter, but every time the state has tried to do something, the pro leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL) and the NCAA have filed suit to block it.

Eventually, New Jersey took the matter to court itself, essentially claiming that PASPA was a bunch of bullshit and that it violates states rights; I’m way oversimplifying, but you get the point. The Supreme Court – to the surprise of many – agreed to hear the case and so it did last year.

A ruling from the Supreme Court is expected this spring and those who attended the hearing and are generally in the know believe that the ruling will come down in New Jersey’s favor.

Seeing the writing on the wall, the leagues are gearing up to try to swing regulation in their direction. The NBA and MLB, in particular, have lobbied several state legislatures to try to make sure any regulations suit their needs. Of note is an “integrity fee” the leagues want imposed on the sports books, which says that the betting operators must pay the leagues one percent of all bets made. This extrapolates to about 20-25 percent of a sports book’s profit, which is just a killer.

So now the players associations are speaking up. The statement is brief and, frankly, a bit cryptic (linked here from the NFL Players Association’s website):

Given the pending Supreme Court decision regarding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), representatives of the MLBPA, NBPA, NFLPA and NHLPA have been working together on the legal, commercial, practical, and human consequences of allowing sports betting to become mainstream. The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs. Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses. Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses. The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.

That’s it. The players associations don’t clarify what they mean by “privacy and publicity rights,” but one might infer that this has something to do with the use of players’ names in prop bets. If the sports books are allowed to use the players’ names, this may mean that the players want to see some compensation for it. Honestly, I’m not really sure where “privacy” comes into it, but no matter. As for “integrity,” this is where the leagues always go when arguing against sports betting. It’s basically a played-out trope at this point. Everyone knows the whole point of regulation is to make sure no funny business goes on, or to at least catch it and punish the perpetrators in the rare cases when it does happen. Leagues and (to a lesser extent) players just use it as an excuse, even though they know that sports betting drives tons of interest in their sports.

Really, the whole thing can probably just be boiled down to the players wanting their share. The NBA and MLB, as mentioned, have already been pushing for a significant money grab (never mind that legalized sports betting would naturally generate more revenue for the leagues), so the players associations – ever butting heads with league management – were like, “Wait, if they are getting money, we should be, too!”

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