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Player's Advantage

Expansion of sports betting moves from 'what if' to 'when'

| Sunday, April 10, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
President and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA) Geoff Freeman (L) and Oxford Economics Head of Consultancy Hamilton Galloway attend the AGA's launch of 'Gaming Votes,' the industry's first voting initiative targeting key presidential election states at Aristocrat Technologies on February 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The AGA today pledged to mobilize gaming employees for the 2016 presidential elections and educate candidates about the gaming industry.
President and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA) Geoff Freeman (L) and Oxford Economics Head of Consultancy Hamilton Galloway attend the AGA's launch of 'Gaming Votes,' the industry's first voting initiative targeting key presidential election states at Aristocrat Technologies on February 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The AGA today pledged to mobilize gaming employees for the 2016 presidential elections and educate candidates about the gaming industry.

Not so long ago, few people thought you'd ever be able to place a legal bet on the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates or other teams at an American sports book outside Nevada.

Times and attitudes can change quickly.

The president and CEO of the American Gaming Association predicted last week in Pittsburgh that sports betting will be legal across the country in three to five years.

“The next president is going to have that issue of legalizing sports betting on their desk, and I'm confident they'll make the right decision,” said Geoff Freeman, head of the country's top casino trade organization.

He's not alone.

“I think it's doable,” Sue Schneider, founder of the iGaming North America conference and editor of Gaming Law Review, tells Player's Advantage. “I wouldn't have said that five years ago.”

The AGA has been at the forefront of the push to expand sports betting beyond Nevada, touting the tax revenue and consumer protections of legalization as well as the extent of illegal wagering nationwide. For example:

At the beginning of the 2015 NFL season, the association released a study showing that Americans would bet $95 million on pro and college football games, the vast majority illegally.

As the NCAA basketball tournament started last month, AGA researchers said 40 million Americans would fill out 70 million tournament bracket predictions. Of the $9.2 billion bet on the tournament, the AGA said, only 3 percent would be made legally.

Seventy percent of fans are more likely to watch a game if they've wagered on it, the AGA says, and nearly two-thirds say they follow teams more closely if they've bet on a game.

“Prohibition, we've found in this country, doesn't work very well,” Freeman says. “It's certainly not working with sports betting.

“Let's begin to look at this, regulate it, bring some of the tax dollars that could be had back to the local communities and the states. Let's look at the ways of reinventing this (casino) industry by having good policy.”

Schneider says two factors have helped the campaign: The heads of the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball signaling their openness to it and the exploding popularity of daily fantasy sports.

“That shows there's a constituency out there and that people want to play,” she says.

The ban on most sports betting outside Nevada dates to 1992's Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, also known as PASPA or the Bradley Act, in honor of U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a former NBA all-star who sponsored the bill.

At the time, legalized casinos were beginning to spread beyond Nevada and New Jersey, and PASPA backers persuaded Congress to prohibit sports gambling in new jurisdictions. Nevada, of course, already had full-fledged sports betting, while Oregon, Delaware and Montana had limited forms. PASPA allowed any state where casino gambling had been legal for at least 10 years — only New Jersey met that qualification — to legalize sports betting but only in the first year after the law took effect. State officials did not do that until 2014, when Gov. Chris Christie signed a sports-betting bill into law. Courts have upheld a legal challenge by the NCAA and professional sports leagues, and the state's appeal is before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Expansion beyond Nevada hinges first on federal action to repeal or amend PASPA. Schneider says one route might be to give a sports-betting option to states that have had legalized gaming for a specified length of time and an existing regulatory structure, similar to the New Jersey rule when PASPA took effect. In addition to casino operators, state lotteries might want to oversee sports books, she notes.

If PASPA is changed, the decision to allow sports books would be left to the states. According to LegalSportsReport.com, bills to legalize sports betting are before legislatures in four states: Pennsylvania, California, New York and Delaware. The Delaware proposal would expand the state's parlay card offerings online, the site says.

In a relatively short time, the question about sports betting has evolved from whether it will expand to what regulations are needed when it does spread beyond Nevada.

“You don't have to reinvent the wheel,” Schneider says. “All you have to do is look at 50 other countries around the world that have been doing it for decades,” as well as Nevada.

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review gambling columnist. Reach him at players@tribweb.com.

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