The country watched with baited breath as the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this Thursday, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill also spent the day tackling the issue of sports betting regulation.
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigation – a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee – convened on September 27 to hold a hearing titled “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America.”
The title refers to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, a federal ban on sports betting (outside of Nevada) which was repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court in May. Since then, four states have moved to legalize and launch regulated sportsbooks – Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia – while Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have passed laws which are expected to go live this year.
The Subcommittee consists of 10 Republicans – chaired by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) – along with seven Democrats. Five speakers delivered spoken testimony during the hearing, each representing various sports wagering industry stakeholders:
Sara Slane – Senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association (AGA)
Becky Harris – Chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB)
Jocelyn Moore – Executive vice president of communications and public affairs for the National Football League (NFL)
Jon Bruning – Counselor for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG)
Les Bernal – National director for Stop Predatory Gambling (SPG)
Shortly after convening the hearing, Sensenbrenner explained why the rise of regulated sports betting warranted federal oversight:
“This subject is extremely important and complex, and development in the last year means it may soon affect the lives of millions of Americans.
Sports in America are tightly woven into our lives. They are our pastime, our passion.
They bring us together, they divide us – hopefully in good sportsmanship – and they serve as an escape.”
The primary impetus for the hearing arose after America’s four major professional sports leagues – the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL – began lobbying states to include a so-called “integrity fee” in their individual sports betting laws.
Per the leagues’ account, legalized sports betting inherently threatens the integrity of on-field action by creating an environment in which players or coaches may be incentivized to fix games, shave points, or otherwise profit from their access. To combat this threat, the leagues want states to include a separate tax on operators, with payments going into league coffers to subsidize game integrity safeguards.
Interestingly, the same four leagues aligned with the NCAA to sue New Jersey in 2012, after the Garden State passed a series of sports betting laws. The resulting lawsuit found its way to the Supreme Court, and following PASPA’s repeal, the leagues have reversed course by embracing sports betting – but only if an integrity fee is involved.
That about face hasn’t been lost on state legislatures, however, which have largely rejected the leagues’ request out of hand.
Jocelyn Moore, executive vice president of communication and public affairs for the NFL, summarized the leagues’ position thusly:
“While we respect the Court’s ruling, it has ushered in a new reality.
As we go forward, we believe the federal government is the only entity that can protect the integrity of the game – as opposed to the state level.
The absence of clear sports betting standards threatens the integrity of our nation’s sporting contest. We are witnessing a regulatory race to the bottom.”
Harris of the NGCB – which has regulated sports betting in the Silver State since 1955 – refuted that claim by pointing out that newly legalized states are largely replicating Nevada’s successful regulatory structure:
“I would disagree that we are undergoing a race to the bottom.
States do a good job and Nevada has a regulatory structure that has been refined for decades.”