Three Reasons Why It’s So Hard To Take NBA, MLB Seriously On Sports Betting

Posted By Dustin Gouker on April 25, 2018
NBA Sports Betting

Despite what you might have read, the NBA and Major League Baseball are not actually proponents of legal sports betting in the United States. In fact, they are only in favor of it when it can benefit them directly.

If they actually were champions of sports gambling, we’d have seen a far different story arc for sports gambling here. And we would see them advocating for far different things in legislation as it is introduced in state legislatures around the country.

As the leagues further vocalize what they want, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to view the leagues as rational actors worth paying attention to in the sports betting debate as we await a decision in the US Supreme Court sports betting case.

The leagues started lobbying only when they had to

The NBA has been hailed as a progressive force of change for US sports betting for years, even as it sat idly by to do nothing other than say it should be legal and regulated in the United States.

To wit, the NBA said it would not lobby Congress — let alone states — as recently as a year ago before an abrupt pivot to say that it would. As soon as 2018 rolled around, we learned the two leagues were putting on a full-court press in as many as a dozen states.

Why the sudden change? It coincided with the Supreme Court’s decision to take the New Jersey sports betting case, in which the NBA, MLB and other sports leagues were litigants. And then in December, oral arguments went poorly for the leagues, most analysts agree.

That means the sudden change from a laissez-faire attitude is not borne out of a real change of heart on sports betting, it came from necessity. The leagues had sensed they lost control of both the “when” and “how” for sports betting. And suddenly they started telling everyone how it should be done.

To make it clear that the leagues don’t really support regulated sports betting unless their list of demands is met, they continue to oppose a law in West Virginia that went on the books this spring.

The bottom line: the NBA and MLB could have been working on creating a legal and regulated environment for sports betting years ago, and those attempts would seem a lot less disingenuous than they do now.

The leagues are asking for a cut…of NJ sports betting

This amazing story surfaced last week.

Even as the leagues fight New Jersey in court, the NBA and MLB are lobbying government officials in the state to give them a cut of all wagers along with other things they are asking for in other states.

It’s crazy that they are brazen enough to have stymied sports betting in NJ for years and then turn around and ask for a cut when it turns out they might lose the case. The next thing you know, the same leagues will be going to Nevada — a place where legal wagering has existed for decades — and make the same demands.

Here’s what’s happened in the six years that NJ sports betting has been hung up in two different court cases:

  • A number of Atlantic City casinos have closed.
  • AC went through a state takeover because of its struggling finances.
  • The state has paid $8 million in legal fees.

And now the leagues want money from New Jersey gaming interests? Come on.

The leagues are not really offering anything of value

The leagues are asking for a lot of money and control when it comes to sports wagering. But they’re not giving back anything in return, as least not legislatively.

They’re offering to be a part of the process for monitoring and ensuring integrity of the underlying games, but that’s something they’re going to do anyway.

The leagues continue to argue that “we exist, therefore pay us to bet on our games.” That’s an awful argument, and it really doesn’t work like that almost anywhere in the world.

The leagues, at the core, want to be paid for their intellectual property, and they don’t want any strings attached to it. If they would start offering something of value to states and prospective sports betting operators, that might be a different story.

But for now, the leagues are putting their hands out and giving nothing in return. That’s a stance that’s difficult to take seriously if you’re a government official or gaming company.

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Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner. You can also find his work at Legal Sports Report.

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