By Sangin Safi – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student
In an op-ed published in the New York Times on November 13, 2014, NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, argues for the legalization and regulation of sports betting. According to him, “despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread.” He points out that since there are only a few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites. According to an estimate that he provides the underground industry is worth nearly $400 billion annually.
Mr. Silver argues that times have changed since the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which generally prohibits states from authorizing sports betting. According to him, gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States. He points to trends within the United States (i.e. New Jersey’s referendum demonstrating overwhelming support for legal sports betting) as well as international trends where sports betting is widely legal and subject to regulation. In light of these trends, Mr. Silver argues that Congress should adopt a federal framework for legalizing and regulating sports betting, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman disagrees. (As a hockey fan from Canada, I am not too surprised by Mr. Bettman’s cynical position!)
According to Mr. Bettman, “… some attention needs to be paid to what sport is going to represent to young people.” He further states, “[s]hould [sport] be viewed in the competitive, team-oriented sense that it is now? Or, does it become a vehicle for betting, which may in effect change the atmosphere in the stadiums and the arenas?” Mr. Bettman seems to be concerned that by legalizing sports betting, fans would be rooting for the spread instead of rooting for their favorite team.
However, Mr. Bettman seems to miss Mr. Silver’s point. By legalizing sports betting, Congress is not introducing sports betting. Sports betting already exists. By legalizing and strictly regulating it, the government would be bringing sports betting out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated, as Mr. Silver argues.
Furthermore, Mr. Bettman’s concern regarding how sports betting would affect young people as well as the atmosphere at sporting events seems to stem out of his moral judgment on the merits of gambling. However gambling is a form of entertainment just like sport is. As Mr. Silver points out, gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States. Gambling and sport have co-existed without having a particular affect on young people or the atmosphere at sporting events. Therefore, it could hardly be argued that by legalizing and regulating what already exists, there would be a negative affect on young people and the atmosphere at sporting events.
Moreover, Mr. Bettman seems to suggest that rooting for the spread and rooting for your favorite team are mutually exclusive things. However, most sports fan are able to differentiate between the two and can partake in both activities without affecting their enthusiasm and loyalty to their favorite team. Indeed, it could be argued that sports betting might actually increase the level of interest ordinary citizens might have in sports and in attending sporting events.
In conclusion, while Mr. Silver’s offers a pragmatic opinion on the future of sports betting, Mr. Bettman seems to think that by legalizing and regulating an estimated $400 billion a year underground industry, society would be sending the wrong message to young people. In this battle, Mr. Silver is clearly leading 1-0.