CDC Gaming Reports - Commentary: AGA shows strong quarterback skills in sports betting push

Op Ed | 06.28.2017

June 28, 2017

By Howard Stutz 

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court moved the football closer to the goal line in the eyes of the nation’s sports betting community.

The bulk of the credit, however, goes to the American Gaming Association, which has kept the drive alive.

Later this year, the nation’s highest court will hear arguments concerning a New Jersey lawsuit in which lower courts have denied the state’s efforts to allow legal sports betting at its racetracks and casinos. A favorable ruling could demolish the 25-year-old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which bans single-game sports wagering outside of Nevada.

The hope, among the sports betting community, is that legal wagering advances across the U.S.

AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said during a conference call Tuesday that the court’s decision to take up the case was a “nail in the coffin” for PASPA.

Freeman isn’t spiking the football quite yet. The AGA’s efforts, though, have helped put PASPA on life support and given New Jersey’s herculean quest renewed life.

For more than two years, the Washington D.C.-based organization has argued that despite PASPA’s existence, sports betting remains a healthy – although illegal – activity. The AGA estimates Americans wager more the $150 billion annually on sports with unregulated offshore gambling websites and the corner bookies.

Meanwhile, Nevada’s legal sports books took in a record $4.5 billion in wagers in 2016, much of it fueled by the growing influence of mobile sports betting applications.

In addition, the major sports leagues have seemingly softened their stance against sports wagering. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights begin play in October at the T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip, and the NFL has approved the Oakland Raiders’ planned move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.

None of this happens without the AGA.

Over the past few years – during Super Bowl week, the World Series and the NCAA Basketball Tournament – the organization highlights the failure of PASPA to halt illegal sports gambling. The efforts have been constant, creative and kept the issue alive in front of the public – which includes an audience of Washington D.C. decision makers.

In a May interview with CDC Gaming Reports, Freeman surmised it would be 2018 or 2019 before Congress would consider legalizing sports wagering. The Supreme Court’s willingness to review the New Jersey’s case could quicken that timeframe.

Using a sports analogy, the football is at the 30-yard line and it is first and 10 with a minute to play. Given that gaming’s push toward the end zone began on their own goal line, the industry has made tremendous progress.

The AGA has been the team’s Tom Brady. It’s up to New Jersey’s legal team to push the football across the goal line.

The gaming industry has taken notice.

“At this point, (legal sports betting) is sort of inevitable,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It will happen at some point, it’s just a matter of when.”

In a statement, William Hill US CEO Joe Asher called PASPA “a failed law.” Asher, whose company operates more than 100 Nevada sports books, said it was “time for all parties, including the sports leagues,” to help create “a regulatory framework that will bring sports betting out of the shadows and into the sunlight.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been advocating for the state to legalize sports betting almost as long as he has been in office, told media outlets he was “thrilled” the Supreme Court would take up the case.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Christie, who is nearing the end of his second and final four-year term as governor. “I’m encouraged by it. We’re not declaring victory. But at least we’re in the game, and that’s what we want to be.”

They all have the American Gaming Association to thank.

Howard Stutz oversees corporate communications for Golden Entertainment, Inc. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter

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