One day removed from making headlines through the formation of a new lobbying group to legalize sports betting, the American Gaming Association (AGA) is at it again.
During a conference call on Monday held to discuss the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition (ASBC), AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman confirmed that his organization has held a series of meetings with player unions representing the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Hockey League (NHL).
Last week Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported that such meetings had been held in New York City over the prior 18-month period to “discuss the potential ramifications that legalized sports gambling could present for their players.”
As gaming industry reporter David Purdum of ESPN wrote today, Freeman outlined the framework of those discussions as pertaining to “how legal sports betting works in international jurisdictions, data rights and potential marketing opportunities for players with legal betting entities.”
The AGA is currently pursuing a protracted political and legal effort to overturn a federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. Under the provisions of PAPSA, sports betting is banned in all but four American states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana).
As Freeman relayed during the conference call, the AGA is anticipating the inevitable repeal of PAPSA as nationwide support for sports betting swells, and opposition from North America’s “Big Four” sporting leagues has waned:
“I think what the unions are trying to do now, wisely, is learn everything they can learn [about regulated sports betting].
I can tell you from the questions they asked us, they were good questions. They’re thoughtful on this. They’re going to be a key stakeholder on how this plays out.”
As part of his prior reporting on the union meetings, which was published on June 8, King spoke with George Atallah – who serves as assistant executive director of external affairs for the National Football League Players Association.
Atallah also confirmed that meetings with the AGA have been held, while repeating the NFL’s longstanding concerns that legalized gambling could impact game integrity:
“Yes, the sports unions have been discussing the issue, in particular around the integrity of our respective games. We’re collaborating on it.
We might be open to changes that are coming because of (legalized sports gambling), but before we get to the revenue aspect of it, do we have the infrastructure in place to prevent any sort of shenanigans? That’s the issue.”
The NFL has been a vocal opponent of sports betting over the years, but that stance has shifted considerably after the league approved the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas. With the Raiders scheduled to begin play in 2020, and the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights – the gambling mecca’s first major professional sports franchise – taking the ice this fall, old opinions on sports betting are being reassessed.
A veteran NFL reporter, King used his league connections to speak with two team owners in March, one from each of the league’s two conferences. And their comments revealed a striking shift in the league landscape when it comes to legalized gambling.
According to an anonymous AFC team owner, the historical view of gambling as the domain of criminals and cheats has been rendered obsolete:
“From a gambling standpoint? That’s a joke to even say that’d be a problem. That was an issue decades ago. Now? Sports gambling is going to be legal.
We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution, rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be above board.”
An owner from the NFC echoed those sentiments, specifically mentioning the advent of online sportsbooks and mobile betting:
“The first question, naturally, is going to be about gambling. But any of us can pull our phones out of our pockets and place a bet right now. (The concern) is not 100 percent put to bed, but it’s relatively put to bed, just because of technology today.”
The AGA’s newly formed lobbying group has announced plans to pressure Congress to pursue a PAPSA repeal this year.