After the Associated Press recently revealed the NHL’s plans to expand its Western Conference with the league’s 31st franchise in Las Vegas, the conversation quickly turned to how the NHL, along with the other major American sports leagues, will handle the city’s legalized sports betting market.
In a press conference via telephone Wednesday, American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman discussed the ramifications of the upcoming move, welcoming the new franchise as an opportunity for the continued growth of modern legalized and regulated sports betting. Freeman spoke with reporters for 20 minutes about the future of organized sports betting in America and how he felt the next steps necessary to establishing such a system would play out over the next several years.
“It’s time for a new approach to sports betting that eliminates the federal prohibition and recognizes what the NHL, NBA and others have acknowledged through the rise of daily fantasy sports — today’s fans are seeking greater engagement with the sports, teams and players they enjoy,” Freeman said. “A regulated and transparent market is the best approach for ensuring integrity in the sports.”
In his opening statement, Freeman offered answers to both the hypothetical and very real concerns raised by the various leagues regarding the perceived effects gambling could have on the integrity of their sports, citing the current negative effects of illegal sports betting and the fact that 80 percent of NFL teams are within an hour of a casino. While leagues like the NHL and NBA have seemingly made peace with the decision to move forward in a market that legalizes and strictly regulates sports betting, the NFL has been more publicly bullish on the issue, though in recent months, it has been more willing to approach the subject.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made his opinion known in a 2014 op-ed piece for the New York Times, writing that given the current social atmosphere regarding gambling, “Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”
Conversely, at a March press conference for the the annual NFL coaches’s meeting, per the AP, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would have to look into the effects of gambling before putting a franchise in Nevada. However, in an April appearance on ESPN’s Mike and Mike, Goodell admitted to being open to the possibility of discussing how gambling and pro football could mix.
“All of us have evolved a little bit on gambling. To me, where I cross the line is anything that can impact on the integrity of the game. If people think it is something that can influence the outcome of a game, we are absolutely opposed to that.”
The NFL’s owners aren’t completely opposed to the idea of sports gambling, either. As Sports Illustrated reports, both Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones are investors in DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports betting website that, along with competing company FanDuel, formed a large part of the industry Freeman credits with leading the national conversation around whether the various leagues and NCAA would approve of sports betting given the vast fan interest.
In a more Vegas-related effort, after failing to obtain the Los Angeles bid nabbed by the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis has since refocused the team’s relocation efforts on Las Vegas. When asked about the NFL’s interest in Las Vegas as a franchise destination, Freeman called it the “800-pound gorilla,” saying that while the league and Davis come to their own decision about which market will best suit an NFL team, the best thing the AGA can focus on is repealing PAPSA — the 1992 law that outlaws nationwide sports betting.
“Someone had to break the dam here and be the first to come into that market,” Freeman said. “I’m not sitting here as a champion for Las Vegas, encouraging every sports league to go there. I’m simply saying what the NHL did is acknowledge that the industry has gone mainstream. There’s greater comfort with the industry than ever before, and I think for the sake of Las Vegas, you may well see a similar move from other leagues in the not-too-distant future.”
Freeman admitted it is still too early for legislative efforts to get underway. He told reporters he expects notable motion to be put in place starting in 2017, saying the organization’s current efforts have been focused on producing information available from Nevada and other countries, such as England and much of Europe, where sports betting is legalized and institutionalized.
“Frankly, I think it’s premature to really be on Capitol Hill in a traditional lobbying sense,” Freeman said. “We’re working to expose that problem, produce the research, help people understand the problem that’s out there, and much of that is going on through the media, it’s going on through our own grassroots efforts and other activities.”
“It’s really in 2017 and beyond that this issue is going to get the attention it deserves, and we’ll be prepared to lead that effort.”
The AGA is currently working to create alignment with all interested parties on what a legalized sports betting infrastructure would look like if and when that day comes. AGA is hosting a summit with local law enforcement Thursday, according to Freeman. He said the 30 or so officials expected to attend have expressed the need for “a transparent regulated sports betting market” as a result of the knowledge of what happens to the money made off illegal gambling, specifically citing human trafficking and extortion as crimes illegal sports betting currently funds.
According to the AP, the Las Vegas franchise will join the league starting with the 2017-18 campaign. When asked if he had any first-hand knowledge of the NHL’s Las Vegas decision, Freeman responded, “I’m reading what you’re reading.”