Sports Betting Might Become Legal in the U.S. Sooner than You Think

June 29, 2017 by CFP Staff

The past 50 years has seen legal gambling undergo an unprecedented expansion. A never-before-seen number of casino slot machines, scratch cards, lotteries, and poker rooms have emerged, some of them in real life, others over the internet. Not sports betting outlets, though - the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) made sure that the world of sports remains free of the negative influence of the regulated betting business by effectively pushing it outside the law everywhere in the country (except for Nevada and three other states).

Prohibition is never a solution - we learned that already during the nationwide alcohol ban between 1920 and 1933, which saw the rise of illegal distilleries and speakeasies across the U.S., and the emergence of organized crime groups making a fortune off the illegal production and sale of alcoholic beverages. History seems to have repeated itself in the case of sports betting: while Nevada has only reported bets worth around $4 billion a year placed on various sporting events, the size of the illegal betting market is estimated to be anywhere between $80 and $380 billion a year. And the illegal betting market is thought to be present at all levels, from neighborhood bookies and office pools to offshore sports betting websites and similar establishments.

Sports betting - and gambling in general - are handled in a far more liberal fashion in Europe. There, sports betting is legal and subject to strict regulation, along with many other forms of gambling, by the way. Europeans are, for example, free to play their favorite slot machines at the Wild Jack or any other similar venue they might find appealing, place a bet on their favorite team's results while the match is underway, and play poker on all levels playing from their smartphones or computers. Playing at the Wild Jack is seen more as a casual form of online entertainment than a form of actual gambling (especially by the players), and betting on a sports event is also commonplace in most member states of the European Union.

Europe is the home to some of the biggest online betting groups, too, which often spend a great deal on sponsoring sports teams and events. All this in a strictly regulated fashion, with a special attention to integrity, fair play, and the cleanliness of the sport - betting firms and gambling groups in Europe have even formed professional associations to protect the integrity of the sports world and to prevent match-fixing. These organizations (EGBA, ESSA) have developed an early warning system to detect unusual betting patterns in sports competitions and reporting them to the authorities, and have partnered with the sports authorities of the EU and athlete associations to teach athletes about match fixing.

The PASPA, as the main piece of legislation that outlaws sports betting, is being challenged as we speak. And this move is not pushed exclusively by business and budget interest - the public would like the sports betting ban to be lifted, too. According to a national survey conducted by the American Gaming Association (AGA), nearly 60% of all Americans (most of them avid sports fans) favor ending the federal sports betting ban. Such a move would also increase fan engagement - punters report that they are most likely to watch or discuss a game if they have placed a bet on it. With so many in favor of legal sports betting in the US - and some initiatives, like New Jersey's challenge of the PASPA - we might see legal sports betting options to appear before the end of the current presidential term.