Let Them Bet

Tyler Sloan, Editor in Chief

Adam Silver, the commissioner of a little-known organization called the National Basketball Association, made history last week by openly supporting the legalization of sports gambling. The new stance takes a sharp departure from the organization’s position in recent years and has opened up a new dialogue regarding the controversial subject.

In Silver’s New York Times op-ed piece, which caught fire in the media and led to numerous subsequent articles with speculation about Silver’s opinion, he provides a detailed list of suggestions for regulating legalized sports betting. His proposal sounds curiously similar to the proposals made by many advocates of marijuana legalization. Silver’s guidelines for how Congress should treat sports betting are as follows:

“Mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.”

The reason that these laws sound reminiscent of the recent marijuana legalization policies that have passed through Congress in places such as Colorado is because the two are similar in more ways than one. Colorado’s laws include guidelines like the following: Only licensed establishments may sell retail marijuana products; it is illegal to give or sell retail marijuana to minors; you must be 21 or older to have or use retail marijuana; and it is illegal to take marijuana out of the state.

While conflating the legalization of marijuana and sports betting would be inaccurate, the two issues do share key similarities that strengthen Silver’s argument. The starkest overlap between the two proposals is that people are going to do it no matter what, so Congress might as well regulate it and make the market safer and more reliable. Silver outlines his argument as follows:

“Despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites. There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States, but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.”

In his op-ed, Silver hints at an important point: the legalization of sports betting would hardly change the culture that already exists. Despite the 1992 passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, otherwise known as PASPA, gambling is prevalent and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. While in years past the NBA has endorsed PASPA, Silver says it is time the league starts singing a different tune because the times, they are a-changing.

States are seeking to expand the ways in which people can bet, Silver wrote, citing the fact that “Most states offer lotteries. Over half of them have legal casinos. Three have approved some form of Internet gambling, with others poised to follow.” He continues to cite many persuasive reasons why betting should be legalized, somewhat downplaying what seems to be the main motivator: money.

Just as legalizing marijuana would bring in massive amounts of money for companies in the industry, legalizing sports gambling would create a whole new source of revenue for the NBA. The regulation of sports betting would also preserve the “integrity of the game,” as Silver puts it, instead of driving betting into the underground systems already in place, which produce no profit for the organization.

Soon enough, it can be expected that other executives in the industry will start openly supporting the legalization of sports gambling. Silver has led the way in a revolution that makes it socially acceptable to promote safe, regulated betting on professional sports teams.