On Thursday, while the Senate dealt with Supreme Court hearings, a subcommittee of the US House talked sports betting.
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigation hosted the hearing “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America.”
Since PASPA was repealed, four states have joined Nevada in offering legal sports betting:
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
New Jersey did not have a representative at the hearing. A surprise, perhaps, considering NJ sports betting was successfully regulated and launched post-PASPA. It now contains eight retail sportsbooks and eight online sportsbooks.
The hearing did include expert testimony representing both sides of the debate including:
- Sara Slane, senior vice president, public affairs, American Gaming Association
- Becky Harris, chair, Nevada Gaming Control Board
- Jocelyn Moore, executive vice president, communications and public affairs, National Football League
- Jon Bruning, counselor, Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG)
- Les Bernal, national director, Stop Predatory Gambling
Hyperbole and hypotheticals are abundant
Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) opened by establishing two goals for the hearing and the potential federal framework: “Protecting our children and the games we love.”
In a hearing that lasted about 90 minutes, it all came down to where do sports betting regulations belong — with the states or the federal government?
Both sides of the debate were represented and their testimony was hardly surprising. What was surprising were the questions being asked by committee members who, for the most part, are against any form of gambling.
Hyperbole and hypotheticals ran rampant as the committee heard testimony that would influence their decision going forward and “affect generations to come.”
Some lawmakers and a few of the witnesses painted a picture of a sports betting and gambling industry full of thugs, miscreants, and degenerates. It’ll require protections that go beyond the games and into the “parking lots” and “other private areas.”
Bernal of Stop Predatory Gambling went so far as to say, “Gambling, at its core, is a con.”
NFL double downs on the evils of sports betting
The NFL was a major proponent of PASPA.
It, along with the other major sports leagues and the NCAA, fought New Jersey every step of the way in its fight to earn the right to offer sports betting in the state.
Moore’s testimony sounded a lot like she was taking the case to court again. Consequently, she quoted a section of PASPA, saying it is still true today:
“Sports gambling conducted pursuant to State law threatens the integrity and character of, and public confidence in, professional and amateur sports, instills inappropriate values in the Nation’s youth, misappropriates the goodwill and popularity of professional and amateur sports organizations, and dilutes and tarnishes the service marks of such organizations.”
Moore admits that Congress cannot go back in time, but encourages the committee to “create a modern framework” to protect the integrity of the game and its fans.
The word “integrity” was used 24 times in her prepared testimony. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this hearing is taking place because of the lobbying efforts of the NFL and other sports leagues.
Certainly, the NFL seems intent on securing a piece of what is already proving to be a very lucrative industry.
States are already doing what Congress thinks it wants to do
What Moore failed to mention is that New Jersey has successfully regulated and launched legal sports betting post-PASPA. And in doing so, the integrity of the game is of the highest priority.
Luckily, Slane of the AGA picked up where Moore left off:
“States and tribes have proven to be effective gaming regulators in the 26 years since Congress enacted PASPA. As Congress has refrained from regulating lotteries, slot machines, table games and other gambling products, it should similarly refrain from engaging on sports wagering barring an identifiable problem that warrants federal attention.”
Concerns for the illegal sports betting market
A big concern mentioned throughout the hearing was the illegal sports betting market. One side claims a federal framework will prevent it; the other claims it may contribute to it.
Harris points to Nevada as an example that regulation at the state level works. Not only has the NGCB detected suspicious activity in the past, but Nevada’s sportsbooks monitor betting activity for questionable practices.
“Integrity in gaming is absolutely critical. Sports betting scandals are more likely to occur in illegal markets where there is no regulatory responsibility, where monitoring betting patterns is of no concern, and where line movements may not matter.”
Contrary to Sensenbrenner’s remarks, there is no consensus
Almost certainly, nobody in the room changed their opinion on where sports betting regulations belong.
However, Sensenbrenner closed the hearing by saying:
“I think the one thing that all of you agree on, is that for Congress to do nothing is the worst possible alternative.”
To clarify, not everyone agrees with that sentiment. Congress doing nothing is NOT the worst possible alternative. Many would argue it is the best.
The precedent for gambling legislation is the states regulate it and the federal government helps to enforce it. There is no denying that the systems put in place at the state level are working.
Sensenbrenner goes on to say:
“So this means we have some work to do. And I’m looking forward to working with you to try to come up with something both short-term and something more permanent to deal with this issue. Because I’m afraid if we don’t, there are going to be some people that get hurt — and hurt very badly.”
Hyperbole aside, it seems unlikely anything will happen in the short term. It is hard to imagine any significant movement with a divisive legislature heading into a contentious midterm.
In the meantime, the states will keep doing what they do best. It’s business as usual where the priority is regulating and monitoring their new sports betting markets.
For New Jersey, it’s stay the course. All is fine.