US Congress Hears More Arguments on Sports Betting Regulations

Them/Us sign

Proponents of federal or state oversight of legalized sports betting in the United States are submitting formal opinions on the matter to the US Congress in the wake of last week’s house subcommittee hearing on the topic.

A US house subcommittee’s informational hearing about federal regulation of sports betting continues to draw input from those on both sides of the debate. The issue is whether federal- or state-level oversight is best for the American sports wagering market. Both the Poker Alliance and the National Council on Problem Gambling [NCPG] have recently submitted formal statements to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, which conducted the September 27 hearing.

The formal statements from the Poker Alliance and the NCPG join those submitted by the officials of five stakeholder groups that were invited to testify at the hearing. Those other statements are available as part of the official proceedings, but the new Poker Alliance and NCPG submissions clearly illustrate the state/federal split on the topic.

The entire hearing was based on the belief that sports betting oversight should be conducted at the federal level, even though gambling matters have generally been considered “states’ rights” concerns under the US Constitution. The Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act (PASPA) law banning the activity across almost the entire US was ruled unconstitutional in May. Ever since, some federal legislators have probed for ways to create a PASPA replacement that would again supersede states’ rights while somehow not being unconstitutional.

Rep. John Goodlatte, the Judiciary Committee Chairman and online-gambling opponent who coordinated the hearings, said: “It is a key principle of federalism that, generally, states have the authority to permit or prohibit activity that occurs wholly within their borders. Presumably, this would include gambling. However, with the development of the Internet, and online gambling, state regulations are difficult, if not impossible, to enforce as electronic communications move freely across borders.”

Goodlatte’s premise was and is that states are incapable of policing online activity and that such regulated controls as ID verification and geolocation might not work. “Clearly,” said Rep. Goodlatte, “this issue is ripe for Congress’s consideration.”

Another anti-gambling group speaks out

In one of the latest submissions, NCPG Executive Director Kevin Whyte highlighted the safeguards that his organization believes must be in place to offer proper social support to problem and addictive gamblers. The NCPG’s overall position is that such regulations are best exercised at the federal level. Unlike the generalized anti-gambling testimony of Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) counselor Jon Bruning and anti-casino activist Les Bernal, Whyte’s submission acknowledged the reality that a large majority of Americans favor legalized sports betting and the activity’s expansion is inevitable.

Whyte proposed that these five steps be made mandatory by lawmakers:

  • Dedicate at least 1% of revenue to prevent and treat gambling addiction.
  • Require sports betting operators to implement responsible gaming programs.
  • Assign a regulatory agency to enforce responsible gambling and other regulations.
  • Conduct surveys of the prevalence of gambling addiction prior to expansion and at regular periods thereafter to support evidence-based, data-driven responsive measures.
  • Establish a consistent minimum age for sports gambling and related fantasy games.

Poker Alliance favors state approach

Arguing from the states’-rights viewpoint was Mark Brenner, president of Poker Alliance, the newly formed successor to the old Poker Players Alliance (PPA). Brenner’s new Poker Alliance represents over 500,000 poker and gambling consumers while also representing corporate gambling interests outside the often-restrained American Gaming Association (AGA), another of the hearing’s participants.

Brenner noted that federal lawmakers had their chance to deal with sports-betting regulation for nearly three decades and actually acted contrary to the public’s safety in maintaining the PASPA ban.

He said: “For nearly three decades, PASPA sought to ban states from authorizing legal sports wagering, with some limited exemptions. The law was successful in preventing state regulation; however, it completely failed as a deterrent to Americans wagering on sports. According to the American Gaming Association, up to $150 billion has been illegally wagered in the United States on sports each year. The unintended consequence of PASPA was the proliferation of black-market sports betting operations. What started as the neighborhood bookie collecting bets soon evolved into an internet-driven multi-billion-dollar marketplace.

“Sadly, in the absence of states being able to take control of unregulated sports betting, consumers were left unprotected and billions of dollars in potential tax revenue was lost. The Supreme Court decision provided a much-needed course correction. Through proper state regulation, consumers now have access to safe and accountable sports wagering businesses run by the licensed casino operators and overseen by state gaming regulators.”