States racing for piece of sports gambling action

The morning of May 14 started like any other for Jake Williams at Sportradar U.S.

Hours later, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing sports gambling nationwide, he felt like a fourth round National Football League draft pick — happy for the news yet aware of the long and uncertain road ahead.

Williams is the general legal counsel for the U.S. branch of Sportradar, a European-based company that provides sports data to bookmakers, sports federations, and media companies worldwide. He called the court ruling “a landmark moment for our business.”

“It was really a moment where we realized everything has changed, and it’s going to be an interesting six to 12 months coming up and a scramble — a mad scramble,”  Williams said.

That scramble has states, sports leagues and some businesses racing to grab a seat at the table, while the rest of the nation ponders what happens next.

Why the hurry? Billions of dollars are up for grabs. And the states want a sizable share of the pot to help finance government.

The American Gaming Association estimates about $150 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year in the U.S.

In 2017, betters placed $4.7 billion on the Super Bowl, according to AGA estimates, with a whopping 97 percent of that — or $4.5 billion — illegal wagers. It said $10 billion in illegal betting occurred in March on the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

“The U.S. market, besides China, is probably the biggest untapped market in the world,” Williams told CNHI.

The Supreme Court ruling that declared a 1992 law — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) — unconstitutional has freed states to establish legal sports betting operations and a potential bonanza in new revenue.

Delaware and New Jersey have already launched legal betting operations. Mississippi, West Virginia and Rhode Island are positioned to soon follow. Lawmakers from many other states are in a rush to get started.

“Everyone is going to eat our lunch” if New York does not act soon, said State Sen. John Boracic, chairman of the New York Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.

Meanwhile, Congress may also play a role.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, an original sponsor of the overturned federal law restricting sports gambling, has said he will unveil a proposal to establish minimum standards targeting issues such as underage gambling and the participation of players, referees and coaches.

Congress may also be the professional sports leagues’ best shot at receiving gambling proceeds.

“What Congress really needs to do is go in and create some uniformity between the scattered gaming laws that are out there so that states really know what they can and can’t do,” said Steven Silver, an attorney who is teaching a class on sports betting law this fall at the University of Maine.

A few days after the Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA made it clear in a statement from president Mark Emmert that it favors federal regulation.

“While we recognize the critical role of state governments, strong federal standards are necessary to safeguard the integrity of college sports and the athletes who play these games at all levels,” Emmert said.

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