The eyes and ears of the US sports betting sector will have been trained intently on last week’s Congressional sports betting hearing. What did we learn from the exercise? Well, depending on who you talk to, apparently everyone agrees that Congress has to do something, especially Congress!
In a rather one-sided post-PASPA Judiciary Hearing last week, it was left to two high-profile women to fight the corner on behalf of the gaming industry. Becky Harris, chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Sara Slane, senior VP of public affairs at the American Gaming Association, were pitched against a room seemingly full of individuals and organisations that appeared less than appreciative of current moves to broaden out legalized sports betting.
Slane told the hearing: “Because of the active, robust state and regulatory tribal gaming oversight, gaming is one of the most strictly regulated industries in America. Right now, over 4,000 gaming regulators with budgets that exceed $1.3bn dollars oversee the gaming industry. Just as Congress has refrained from regulating lotteries, slot machines, table games and other gambling products, it should leave sports betting oversight to the states and tribes that are closest to the market. With such robust and rigorous regulatory oversight at both the state and federal levels, there is no need to over-complicate or interfere with a system that is already working.”
Harris advised: “I don’t think that right now is the time for any kind of federal engagement with regard to gambling. States do a great job in every area including sports betting and we’ve just begun to see the roll out in other states. Nevada has a comprehensive regulatory structure that has been refined over decades, and we have a lot of integrity in our process.”
Those were just two brief excerpts from testimonies that were heavy on fact-based knowledge and refreshingly light on anecdotal evidence. But while both put the case for the industry articulately and succinctly, especially in light of such opposition, the likelihood is their words may well have fallen on deaf ears. It reminded me of my own UK experience spent listening to industry bodies negotiating with policy makers. No matter how rock solid your position may be, once legislators have made their mind up about gaming they rarely change it. It’s a bit like urinating into a stiff breeze!
There was a sense of déjà vu, therefore, when subcommittee chair Jim Sensenbrenner ended the hearing saying: “I think the one thing you all agree on is that for Congress to do nothing is the worst possible alternative. This means we have some work to do.” We wouldn’t for one minute suggest his mind was already made up, but you didn’t need to stick your finger in the air to tell which way that stiff breeze was blowing.
Sensenbrenner’s closing remark had that familiar ring of legislative rhetoric about it. It was clear that there’s sufficient antipathy towards the new world order of sports betting to create a few bumps in the road ahead as states seek to go legal.
Regardless of its track record on gaming, the industry will have to go again and prove it has the credentials to police sports betting to the satisfaction of the leagues and policy makers. That might smooth out some of those inevitable bumps. But can it proceed without some form of federal oversight in the longer term? In theory – and drawing upon years of experience in Nevada – yes it can. The final scenario for US sports betting, however, will most likely involve at least some form of federal intervention/interference. You wouldn’t bet against it.