NBA Calls for Legalization of Sports Betting

On January 24, 2018, the NBA’s Assistant General Counsel, Dan Spillane, testified in front of a New York State Senate committee and expressed the NBA’s support for a body of law that would legalize sports betting. Spillane said, “[w]e have studied these issues at length …[o]ur conclusion is that the time has come for a different approach that gives sports fans a safe and legal way to wager on sporting events while protecting the integrity of the underlying competitions.” Spillane’s testimony comes in stark contrast to the NBA’s stance in recent years. In recent years, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NCAA have spent millions in legal fees fighting to prevent the expansion of legalized sports betting. According to some commentators, the NBA may not be the only league changing its opinion. However, NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, has been open to the idea of expanding sports gambling since 2014.

Currently the U.S. Supreme Court is in the process of deciding a New Jersey case that deals with a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).  PASPA, also known as the Bradley Act, effectively outlawed sports betting nationwide, excluding a few states. The Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue sometime in the spring. Potentially, the Supreme Court could invalidate the act which would open the door to federal and state laws permitting sports betting across the country. A recent report predicts that as many as 18 states will introduce bills to regulate sports betting this year. New York law makers expressed concerns including how legalized sports betting would compete with other legal gambling enterprises, such as casinos and race courses. The American Gaming Association, a group that represents casinos and other businesses involved in gambling, said it approved of a “vigorously regulated sports wagering [system],” but it did not agree that the NBA and other leagues should share in the profits.

Spillane indicated that the NBA will eventually lobby Congress to pass a federal law that would permit sports betting across the country. Specifically, Spillane mentioned that the NBA wants the legislation stipulate that each league should receive a one percent fee every time a bet is made on one of its games. Further, the legislation should allow leagues to the ability to restrict the types of  bets that are made. In addition, Spillane called for a system that would detect and prevent illegal conduct, including a “rigorous licensing program” and exclusion measures for problem gamblers. Finally, Spillane called for the authorization of mobile betting platforms. With the advent, and popularity of online sports betting websites like DraftKings and FanDuel, it appears the market for sports betting is too large for the NBA and other leagues to ignore.

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