Though sports betting has been technically illegal for years, it hasn’t stopped anybody from joining in the office pool, participating in a March Madness bracket once or twice or making a friendly wager on the Super Bowl. But it has meant that everything had to happen in an under-the-table fashion. And if Carl from accounting decides he’s entitled to the winnings alone, it’s not like there’s any legal recourse for anyone else — until now, that is.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), clearing the way for states to make sports betting legal. And on Tuesday, Delaware became the first to take advantage of the decision, launching sports betting at its three casinos. At least four states — New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Mississippi — aren’t far behind; each has already passed laws allowing it, and more than a dozen others have legislation in the works. Maryland could have been on the forefront, but the state Senate killed an effort this session to put a referendum on November’s ballot to authorize sports betting here. Now, the earliest Maryland could get it is 2020.
In states with legalization, you won’t have to rely on the honesty of other bettors to regulate your bracket. That’s the idea, at least. The problem now is that some of the proposed legislation leaves everything to the casinos. Existing casino properties would have full authority to manage how sports betting is regulated in the states, and they obviously have a powerful motivation to ensure that betting occurs strictly on the casino premises. That’s fine if you’re a casino regular, but what if you’re one of the million Americans who bets on sports casually? Casino oversight would cost states hundreds of billions in gaming profits.
If legalizing sports betting doesn’t make it more convenient, there’s no point. Now is the time to legalize sports betting the right way — straight from our phones.
Online mobile gaming is the present and future of the wagering industry. In Las Vegas, more than 60 percent of sports book bets are placed with Nevada’s mobile gaming app. And why not? These days, everybody lives on their phone. We can communicate, entertain ourselves, and even buy groceries with a handy device we keep in our pockets. So why would legislators possibly think Americans will travel to the casino every time they want to place a bet?
Mobile sports betting is also a good way to protect bettors. Major sports leagues have hinted that bringing legal wagering to the second screen, using mobile apps that track statistical data, could protect game integrity.
Our research shows that online gaming in New Jersey generated $998 million in economic output, 3,374 new jobs and $124 million in tax revenue to state and local governments — including $83.5 million in online gambling taxes. Online gaming hasn’t taken any revenue from casinos; it has simply increased the size of the betting pool. Other states can emulate New Jersey's success if they follow its model for rational regulation, including legislative provisions specifically directed at mobile gaming.
Permitting sports betting on the same devices that an increasing number of Americans are using to actually watch sports should be a given. But some state legislators seem painfully out of touch with what Americans want: sports betting that’s at least as convenient as everything else.
Jeff Ifrah (email@example.com) is the founding partner at Ifrah Law, with offices in the District of Columbia and Baltimore; the firm specializes in online gaming law and is a founding member of the I-Development and Economic Association.