NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has shocked everyone by publicly calling for sports betting to be legalized. The only remaining questions are why, how and when?
“Betting on professional sports is currently illegal in most of the United States outside of Nevada. I believe we need a different approach.”
These are not the words of Calvin Ayre, Denise Coates or Victor Chandler. This ominous line was spoken by none other than Adam Silver, the head of a professional sports league which has long been a powerful lobbyist against the legalization of sports betting.
• NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently wrote an op-ed promoting legalized sports betting
• The league remains opposed to betting until coherent federal guidelines are drafted
• The NBA is the second-largest sports league in North America
Earlier this year Silver made waves when he indicated that the NBA may be willing to soften its stance. However, in September the league joined the NFL, MLB, NHL and NCAA in jointly filing a legal challenge to New Jersey’s bid to legalize sportsbetting in the state.
Silver and the NBA have seemingly switched sides of the debate multiple times, but last week Silver made a strong, unequivocal case for amending American gambling laws.The commissioner contributed an op-ed article to the New York Times titled “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.”
His perspective is a prudent acceptance of reality: it is no longer possible to effectively prohibit betting on sports, so we should focus on regulating it as effectively as possible.
The NBA and PASPA
In 1992 under the leadership of then-commissioner David Stern the league lobbied hard for the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a bill which banned betting on basketball games in all US states.
While Silver still believes that PASPA was an appropriate piece of legislation for the time, his position is that times have changed, and the internet revolution has essentially made it impossible to prevent people from gambling:
Despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites… some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.
There is a general trend toward the acceptance of gambling and betting; in Silver’s view, more people bet on sports in America than ever before. Rather than treat it as a vice, betting should be considered a legitimate leisure activity.
While Silver may not love the idea of people betting on NBA games, he has finally awoken to the fact that the best way to maximize benefits and minimize harmful side-effects is to regulate rather than prohibit.
What Silver wants to see happen
The op-ed makes clear that the NBA’s top priority in this instance is to ensure that betting is effectively regulated, which is currently far from being the case. Silver would like to see the PASPA amended to allow individual states to license and regulate their own betting industries, as they now do with regards to online casinos in America.
This would allow for the gradual, managed legalization of sports betting. Most likely New Jersey, Illinois and a few other states would launch regulated markets shortly after such a change to federal law. However, many states would take years to break ground, and some (Utah, Hawaii, etc.) will likely never do it at all.
Silver also expressed some concrete views onhow the industry should be regulated, paying special attention to the protection of minors and problem gamblers and protecting the integrity of sports:
Monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.
While Silver believes that the states should be left to regulate their own betting markets, he also expressed the view that federal oversight is necessary to ensure that states meet regulatory standards.
What it means for the future or betting in America
Why did Silver write this op-ed less than two months after the league filed a challenge to New Jersey’s legalization of sports betting? For exactly the reason mentioned above, that federal guidelines must be put in place before the league will put its backing behind loosening the rules.
This certainly indicates, however, that the league is ready to get behind betting as long as it is conducted according to certain standards. We may even see the NBA begin to actively lobby the federal government to amend PASPA.
Even if the NBA refrains from pushing for legalization, taking a neutral stance on the issue puts a serious dent in the NFL’s strategy of putting up a united front against attempts to overturn PASPA. The NFL hasn’t officially responded to Silver’s op-ed, but one can be certain that it hasn’t taken the news happily.
But as the second-largest sports league in terms of revenue in North America, the NBA has almost as much pull as the NFL does. With Adam Silver’s landmark decision, it appears to be simply a matter of time before legal sportsbetting in America expands significantly.