NBA Commish Would Be Wise To Forget New Federal Law And Watch State's Process


By Steve Kallas
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Much has been made of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s recent New York Times op-ed piece on legalizing sports betting. While Mr. Silver tries to distinguish New Jersey’s attempt by calling for a new federal law, rather than the state law changes, the reality is that his comments only help the Garden State in its efforts to allow you to bet $20 to win on an NFL team every weekend.

Viewed to be the most progressive commissioner of the four major sports, Silver made comments back in September at a Bloomberg News Sports Summit that called for the legalization of sports betting in America. Interestingly, he talked about people who make a “gentleman’s bet” or a “small wager” as getting more “engaged” in the game upon which they are betting. Of course, these bets are illegal (hold your laughter) and are but a small part of the $400 billion to $500 billion gambling industry (legal and illegal) in America.

Last week, Silver contributed to the snowball that is legalizing sports betting by writing an op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, simply, “Legalize Sports Betting.” In it, he lays out his framework for having legal sports betting throughout the country.

The op-ed piece gets a little fuzzy when he tries to distinguish what New Jersey is trying to do from what he envisions would be the correct way to do it. But the reality is, New Jersey is simply trying to follow the language of a Third Circuit opinion that, essentially, told the state how it might be able to have legalized sports betting even with the existence of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

While Silver seems to call for the repeal of PASPA, the reality is that New Jersey is trying to work within the framework of the law as it now exists. While most knowledgeable people believe this framework is changing, New Jersey is trying to be first among states, which, as of now, don’t have legalized sports betting.

NEW JERSEY OVERFLOWING WITH REGULATIONS, SAFEGUARDS

The part of Silver’s op-ed piece that has received little, if any, play in the media is his laying out of specific regulations, requirements and safeguards to protect legalized sports betting.

Of course, he doesn’t seem to be aware that all, or virtually all, of his suggested safeguards are already in existence – in New Jersey.  Maybe you need to have knowledge of the casino industry or horse industry to understand this, but such safeguards already exist in New Jersey.

For example, Silver wants “mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements.”  No problem. Racetracks in New Jersey (and virtually everywhere else) have long had the ability to detect unusual betting patterns on horse races. Certainly casinos in Las Vegas have the same thing for betting on football and other games.

Silver wants “a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate.” No problem. All casino and racetrack employees, including betting tellers, security guards, grooms, trainers, drivers, vendors, etc. at the racetrack, go through a rigorous licensing procedure in New Jersey that includes fingerprinting, etc.  This is already in effect in New Jersey.

Silver wants “minimum-age verification measures.” No problem. Presumably, this is a sophisticated way of saying “Do you have ID?” That question, of course, has been asked forever at casinos and, to a lesser degree, at racetracks in New Jersey.

Silver wants “geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal.” This wouldn’t seem to be a problem, especially if such betting was legal within the confines of a state, say, for example, New Jersey. If not already in existence, it could easily be provided for people in a specific geographic area, like a state.

Silver wants “mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems.” Again, that’s not a problem, on its face, but a bigger problem on the overall scheme of things for obvious reasons. We all see the “if you have a gambling problem, call this number” or “gamble responsibly” caveats on lottery commercials in all states that have a lottery. While casinos and racetracks do the same thing with warnings and phone numbers, the reality is, if you want to get a bet down and you are on some kind of “do not bet” list, you’ll find a way (relative, bookie, friend, etc.) to get that bet down.

Finally, Silver wants “education about responsible gambling.” Again, no problem. There are programs throughout the states, including New Jersey, to attempt to deal with these problems. Education is just a click away on your computer, is available at Gamblers Anonymous, etc.

In summation, everything Silver wants is pretty much already available in New Jersey.

SILVER AND JUDGE SHIPP

Since the NBA is a plaintiff in the New Jersey federal case to stop the state from having limited ($100 max bet) sports gambling, Silver’s op-ed piece should be filed with Judge Shipp as evidence that a commissioner of a major sport is on board with legal sports gambling. While Silver attempts to make a state-federal distinction, the reality is that New Jersey is already trying to work within the existing federal framework and has all, or virtually all, of the safeguards and regulations that the commissioner seeks to make sports betting legal.

And while the NFL, at least for now, seems to oppose Silver’s views, hopefully the lawyers for New Jersey have pointed out to Judge Shipp the hypocrisy of the NFL, as Washington’s team just entered into an agreement with huge fantasy gambling site FanDuel and the NFL continues to put out weekly “injury reports,” which is gold to gamblers, legal and illegal.

Indeed, the injury report was created more than 50 years ago, with one of the reasons for its creation being to prevent gamblers from getting “inside information” on injuries that could influence the outcome of a game.  Now, at least in theory, everybody who wants to know can find out about NFL injuries every week.

WHAT ABOUT THE HYPOCRISY OF THE NBA?

Well, it’s not so long ago that an NBA referee did 15 months in prison for betting on and attempting to fix NBA games, some of which he officiated.

He certainly wasn’t betting $50 on the Lakers to win at Monmouth Park.

The notion of “irreparable harm,” espoused by Judge Shipp in his decision barring (at least temporarily) Monmouth Park from taking sports bets, is based, at least in part, on the false premise that legal gambling, in addition to illegal gambling, will create more opportunities to have fixed games.

Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of this. When an industry has hundreds of billions of dollars per year bet, an additional x millions/billions more won’t raise the chances of a fix any more than there already is such a chance.

In addition, the NBA has also entered into its own four-year agreement with FanDuel. While it’s “legal,” it’s gambling-based, no matter what descriptions are used about it.

CONCLUSION

Like it or not, we live in a world where a number of states allow the legal sale of marijuana despite it being in conflict with existing federal law. New York City now will not arrest you if you are caught carrying a limited amount of pot.

It seems pretty clear to many, including the NBA commissioner, that sports gambling is coming. There’s no reason why New Jersey shouldn’t be first on the list to monitor it, regulate it and do it.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @NYSportsPlus

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