Former Nevada gaming regulator Becky Harris turns her knowledge and experience to the world of academia in a bid to smooth US sports betting’s transition to a legal, legitimate sector of industry. She talks to SBC Americas ahead of addressing this month’s Betting on Sports America conference .

Could you tell us about what you’re doing at UNLV and how does academic life compare with that of a very high profile regulator?

I have joined the UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation (ICGR) as an academic fellow with an emphasis in sports betting. The fellowship will support the ICGR’s expanding role in the area of sports betting following the recent Supreme Court ruling that repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and paved the way for the legalization of sports wagering across all 50 states.

Since the repeal of PASPA last May, more states are looking at the viability of establishing and operating legalized and regulated sports betting in their jurisdictions. This role will allow me to showcase impactful research and best practices in gaming regulation to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of sports betting across all 50 states and internationally.

I have been collaborating with stakeholders on behalf of ICGR to finalize the formation, launch, and first convening of the US Sports Betting Forum—an outlet designed to convene stakeholders to discuss policy and regulatory issues relating to legal sports wagering.

When people talk about integrity in sport, Nevada is always cited as a state that had it well under control. What can other states and operators learn from Nevada as they look to safeguard integrity in their jurisdictions?

Nevada legalized casino gambling in 1931 and allowed bookmakers to accept bets on horse racing and sports wagering as early as 1949. By 1959, Nevada implemented its modern gaming control system, which included stringent pre-licensing investigations, enforcement against illegal gambling activities, audits of operators of gambling activities, tax reporting to the state, evaluation of technologies to ensure honest and fair play, and the implementation of processes to protect patron funds and vulnerable populations.  

Integrity in gaming is absolutely critical.  Since 1977, the stated public policy of Nevada as found in NRS 463.0129(b) and (c) is:

      (b) The continued growth and success of the gaming industry is dependent upon public confidence and trust that licensed gaming is conducted honestly and competitively and that the gaming industry is free from criminal and corruptive elements.

    (c) Public confidence and trust can only be maintained by strict regulation of all persons, locations, practices, associations and activities related to the operation of licensed gaming establishments . . . .

Combating the illegal operators is and will be an ongoing reality.  While each new jurisdiction legalizing sports betting will implement a regulatory structure that reflects its own public policy priorities, Nevada has a lot of experience regulating sports betting, and has assisted in enforcement efforts at the state and federal levels.   

Jurisdictions embarking on legalized sports betting must understand the impact tax rates and fee structures have both on a legalized regulated sports betting market and the illegal sports betting market. To foster robust and healthy legal sports betting market, state tax schemes must be reasonable.  

New jurisdictions legalizing sports wagering won’t simply be competing against other states with legalized sports betting. They will also be competing with off-shore illegal operators as well as illegal operators within their own and other jurisdictions. Reasonable tax rates are essential for legal sports betting products to be competitive with illegal providers. Any additional fees, to the extent they are implemented, only serve to facilitate off-shore illegal gambling operations by making legal betting products that much more expensive. A well-regulated gaming market shifts betting away from the illegal market to the degree the legal market satisfies a given bettor.  Keeping taxes low and eliminating fees helps ensure that legal betting products can be priced competitively with illegal market products. A great experience in one jurisdiction fosters and enhances the experience in another.

Illegal bookmakers don’t necessarily worry about complying with regulations, paying taxes or establishing reserve accounts. They don’t have the same regulatory infrastructure costs, can offer more betting options, are more convenient, provide payment plans and extend credit.  While some illegal operators may pay fees, perhaps some pay taxes and some may even follow some regulations. What we do know for sure is that many illegal operators serve their customers with savvy and attractive websites, which provide a seamless transaction experience, and make betting easy for their customers.

What is likely to be your key message to delegates at the Betting on Sports America conference? What do you hope they will take away from the exercise in terms of learning more about integrity?

States and Indian tribes across the United States have strictly controlled and regulated gambling, in its various forms, with integrity for several decades.  

Both state and tribal jurisdictions have demonstrated their ability to oversee gaming while adhering to the highest standards of accountability. These established agencies and principles now serve as the foundation of legal, regulated sports betting, including intrastate mobile sports wagering, in at least eight states, an activity that Nevada has regulated and monitored since 1949. This year, several more states and tribes will be working to regulate sports betting in their jurisdictions. The post-PASPA state and tribal launch of sports betting continues to demonstrate that state and tribal jurisdictions have the expertise and resources to effectively regulate sports betting free from criminal and corruptive elements.