Federal Sports Betting Regulation Discussed in Senate
An influential senator isn’t giving up his sports betting regulation push just yet.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch outlined his push for a federal framework for legalized sports betting in the U.S. during an address on the Senate floor last week. The longest-tenured member of Congress’ upper chamber, Hatch reiterated his personal opposition to legal sports betting but acknowledged lawmakers should not try to re-enact a nationwide ban.
”We can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” Hatch said in an address to his colleagues. “Prohibition is no longer a possibility or a prudent path forward.”
The Supreme Court decision earlier this year striking down the federal sports betting ban, which Hatch co-authored in 1992, didn’t legalize sports betting in all 50 states. Instead it allowed each one to create its own laws, if it chooses to do so. That’s where Hatch wants Congress to get involved.
“There’s nothing wrong with there being differences among the states. That’s the beauty of our federal system,” Hatch said. “But it does seem that when it comes to protecting the integrity of the game and the sports betting market, there should be some consensus at least some minimum standards on who can place a wager.”
It remains to be seen exactly what that “minimum standard” would encompass, but Hatch address laid out one regulation that could, in theory, ameliorate a longstanding concern from sports leagues.
Concerns Remain Over Eligible Bettors
Short on details, Hatch’s nearly 12-minute speech discussed the pitfalls of gambling from sporting event participants. He called out Mississippi and West Virginia for not specifically excluding a vetted list of sports stakeholders such as athletes, coaches, referees and athletic trainers. Referencing a handful of notorious American betting scandals like Chicago White Sox players in the 1919 World Series and former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, Hatch warned of the dangers to sporting events if affiliated individuals compromised sporting events they were a part of.
Undoubtedly, casinos across the country want to deter the corruption and bad publicity that would come from association with a crooked athlete or official, and a federal law could help deter their participation. But what Hatch, and others concerned about gambling’s influence on sports, fail to acknowledge is the near-ubiquitous access to gambling now available outside regulated gaming facilities.
The American Gaming Association estimates U.S. bettors wager more than $150 billion through illegal bookies or offshore gambling sites- a figure Hatch himself quoted last week in the Senate. Anyone who wants to place a bet can do so with ease. That’s part of the reason American attitudes have shifted to support legalized gambling and why states increasingly look to enact a safer, regulated marketplace that also provides a tax revenue source for state governments.
These fears of legalized gambling are part of a larger fear about threats to the “integrity” of sports, a word Hatch used repeatedly throughout his address to the Senate. When professional sports leagues realized the federal ban was terminal, they pivoted away from opposition. Instead, they argued for one percent of gaming revenues to invest in education and prevention means to keep nefarious outsiders away.
Even professional team owners acknowledge this fear is overblown. Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in an interview that leagues have already taken great measure to protect their games. Though gambling scandals have been and remain a concern, There’s little reason to believe a new legal way to place a bet would disrupt the verisimilitude of a game’s outcome – or that more money for the leagues would do much to protect them.
Hatch didn’t indicate favor for or against a fee in his recent address, though media reports indicate professional sports leagues are lobbying him to incorporate those into a federal regulation. That’s in large part because those fees have gained little traction at the state level. A federal push for such taxes, or perhaps any nationwide regulation, may find similar resistance. Lawmakers at both levels have realized these fees are unnecessary.
More importantly, more money for the leagues means less money for state governments.
Congress Not Betting on Major Legislation
Shortly after the Supreme Court announced it had struck down the ban, Hatch said he would introduce legislation to deal with ensuing state-by-state regulations. A hearing in the House of Representatives was announced not long after that, but was postponed. It has not been has not been rescheduled as of late August.
There’s some significant reasons why it hasn’t been a priority for members of Congress.
Lawmakers, along with much of the nation’s voters, are focused more so on broader issues like immigration as well as the perpetually complex negotiations on a new budget deal in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The looming midterm elections in November are further deterring any meaningful action, as it’s another issue in election campaigns that lawmakers would rather not have to take a stance on before Election Day.
Hatch is among a comparatively small group of lawmakers not seeking re-election this fall. The current president pro tempore and longest-serving member in Senate history, Hatch will leave Congress in January 2019 after more than 40 years as a senator. In recent years he has been far and away the most outspoken supporter of federal gambling regulations and due to his legacy in the upper chamber, his words carry significant influence. When he leaves, so does that spotlight on gambling. There doesn’t appear to be someone to take up that torch.
Without that voice, and relative ambivalence from much of the nation, sports betting may fall further behind the list of federal legislative priorities.
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