NBA Commissioner Adam Silver published an op-ed Thursday in favor of the legalization and regulation of sports gambling in the United States. The column represented a major departure from the hardline anti-gambling stance favored by predecessor David Stern and could herald a coming change to how sports betting is viewed by the nation.
“Times have changed since [the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act] was enacted,” Silver wrote in the New York Times, referencing the 1992 federal statute that banned most states from legalizing sports betting. “Gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States.”
Rather than continuing to shun America’s prosperous underground sports gambling industry, Silver asserts that the nation’s leaders should take control of the system. That would mean federal regulations designed to both protect the integrity of major sports leagues and prevent fans from engaging in gambling activity that falls outside government mandates.
“These requirements would include: 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,” Silver wrote.
It’s difficult to predict if Silver’s public call for legalized sports betting will have any effect on Congress' stance on the matter. At the very least, the NBA’s change of heart could entice another major sports league to reconsider its anti-gambling position, Paul Haagen, a sports law professor at Duke University, said. “The direction in sports is very much in favor of intimate fan engagement,” Haagen said in a telephone interview. “The great triumph of the NFL is fantasy football. Gambling is another form of very direct, immediate fan engagement … It’s essentially a dose of realism with some nod toward increasing fan interest.”
The NBA remains against sports gambling legalization in individual states. Initiatives such as the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie-backed bill that briefly authorized sports betting in the state earlier this year would be “both unlawful and bad public policy” without federal oversight, Silver wrote.
Open support for sports gambling of any kind contradicts the NBA’s opinion on the matter for the past several decades. In 2012, then-commissioner Stern joined with officials from the MLB, NFL, NHL and NCAA to sue New Jersey over Christie’s efforts to legalize sports betting in the state.
“The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two, and they don’t care that it’s at our potential loss,” Stern said at the time, according to the Associated Press.
But Stern softened his anti-sports gambling stance near the end of his tenure as NBA commissioner, and Silver has repeatedly expressed support of legalized sports betting. He described legalization as “inevitable” in at September interview with Bloomberg.
Earlier this week, the NBA announced a promotional and investment partnership with FanDuel, a daily fantasy sports service that allows fans to wager cash on the performance of their respective fantasy teams. Moreover, the league has reportedly mulled the possibility of placing an expansion franchise in Las Vegas -- one of the few places in the country that allows legal sports betting.