Well, it happened. In a New York Times op-ed, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver officially offered his support for the regulation and legalization of professional sports gambling in the United States. This makes Silver the first commissioner of any professional league in the U.S. to advocate for legalized sports gambling in states outside of Nevada. There are caveats, of course. Silver stated that regulation should be established at the federal level, and the NBA still opposes New Jersey’s recent attempt to legalize gambling. However, this could still be a history-changing stance by Silver.
The NBA recently signed a deal with daily fantasy site FanDuel. To most people, there is little difference between wagering money on fantasy football and wagering money on a game. Both are endeavors of skill requiring research and knowledge to be successful. It would be tough for the NBA to argue that high-stakes daily fantasy games are not gambling, but betting on the outcome of games is.
There are other benefits to the business of sports as well. Sports gambling is a vice that is very difficult to combat. If people want to bet on a game, they will bet on a game by placing bets through bookies, some backed by organized crime. Silver cited an astonishing figure for the amount wagered in the U.S. each year:
There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States, but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.
That is taxable income states and the federal government are missing out on. If gambling is that pervasive, and this revenue stream for organized crime could be diminished through regulation, it seems like a no-brainer.
The Fields of Green has also reviewed the benefits of gambling in terms of building fan bases as well as fan engagement. Sports betting is even done at-venue in Europe. The arguments against legalization are losing steam.
It’s also interesting to note that the NBA was the last professional league in the U.S. to be hit with a gambling controversy. Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee, was found guilty of fixing games less than 10 years ago. For the NBA to be the lead on the issue is a bold move.
We will now see what comes next. Will other leagues come out in favor of legalized gambling? There seems to be momentum behind a change, but we will see how long it takes.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.