NBA Commissioner Wants DFS Legalized, Regulated

National Basketball League (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver has, for at least a couple years now, been the only head of any of the major professional sports leagues in the United States to openly advocate for legalized sports betting. Last week, at the music, film, and technology festival SXSW, Silver discussed similar feelings about daily fantasy sports in a question and answer panel.

About an hour into the town hall-type discussion, a reporter asked Silver about where he sees fantasy sports going in the next few years. The commissioner was not shy about answering the question; he did not attempt to distance himself or the league at all from DFS like, say, Roger Goodell and the NFL have:

We jumped into the world of daily fantasy, we’re partners with FanDuel, we have an equity interest in FanDuel, and roughly half our teams have partnerships with FanDuel and roughly half our teams have partnerships with DraftKings.

At the same time, obviously, we don’t want to get sideways with the law. It was our interpretation of federal law, going into those deals, that there was a carveout for fantasy including daily fantasy and daily fantasy, of course, for money. And so ultimately we got comfortable that it was permissible.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Image credit:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
Image credit:

He continued, saying that now that this has become a state-by-state issue, he is very cognizant of some state Attorneys General coming down hard on DFS, ruling that it is illegal, and that just as some DFS companies won’t do business in those states, neither will the NBA when it comes to fantasy. Silver appreciates what Virginia has done with its new law that officially regulates and legalizes daily fantasy sports; he feels DFS will be that much better with regulations and as much transparency as possible.

One argument that the DFS companies – DraftKings and FanDuel specifically – continue to make with the state Attorneys General is that daily fantasy is a game of skill, not chance, and therefore should not be considered gambling (and therefore illegal in many states). Silver (like this writer – great minds think alike, right?) says it should not even matter. “It’s been interesting to watch the analysis in a lot of states, that’s as attorney generals have come in and said, the debate has been ‘is it a game of skill or is it a game of chance/gambling,’” he said. “To me, I believe it’s a game of skill, but I think it’s pointless to debate it. It’s daily fantasy. I think the decision should be for those state legislatures: do you want to legalize it?”

He also agrees with essentially every poker player:

My only issue though in some of those states — I understand from a statutory standpoint if you want to interpret language and say this is not allowed, I get it and then it’s a question for the state legislature. What I don’t get is where then the interpreter then goes on to moralize about the notion that this is gambling and therefore evil, when in those very same states they have casinos, racetracks and lotteries. To me, I think gambling, regulated gambling, is a part of Americana now. We have casinos in 44 states.

As mentioned, this was not the first time Adam Silver spoke out in favor of sports gambling. At the  Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in 2014, he said, “It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada. We will ultimately participate in that.”

Unlike his commissioner counterparts, Silver readily admits that sports betting increases interest in the sport. “If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to see it pay dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.”

Then, just a couple months later, Silver wrote an op-ed in the New York Times supporting sports betting. He said that sports betting is a thriving underground business in the United States and that the way to protect participants and the integrity of the games is to legalize and regulate:

There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. Mainstream media outlets regularly publish sports betting lines and point spreads. Voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly voiced their support for legal sports betting in a 2011 referendum. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey recently signed a bill authorizing sports betting at local casinos and horse racetracks, a law the N.B.A. and other leagues have opposed — and a federal court has blocked — because it violates Paspa.

Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.

He added, “Let me be clear: Any new approach must ensure the integrity of the game. One of my most important responsibilities as commissioner of the N.B.A. is to protect the integrity of professional basketball and preserve public confidence in the league and our sport. I oppose any course of action that would compromise these objectives.”

While it is not a frequent occurrence, the NBA has been hit with sports betting scandals in the past. The most notorious example in recent memory is when it came out in 2007 that NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games in which he officiated. The next year, he alleged that other refs called playoff games in such a way so as to extend series and bring in more revenue for the league. The allegations were never proven, though some of the officials named were already under suspicion.


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