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Professional Sports Evolves To Embrace Gambling

NBA commissioner Adam Silver surprised a lot of sports fans and his fellow commissioners on Friday, when he reversed the league's longstanding opposition to legal wagering. But, don’t expect the U.S. Congress to act on the commissioner’s demands anytime soon.

Silver called on Congress to overhaul a 22-year-old federal law and allot states beyond Nevada to offer legal and regulated sports betting. Betting on sports is legal in four states, including Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware.

Jimmy Vaccaro, manager of the race and sports book at South Point Casino, supported Silver's call to legalize sports betting, but told KNPR on Monday that "they are about 20 years late."

Vaccaro said the appetite for sport betting has been "going crazy" since her arrived in Las Vegas. He said in 1979, there were only two bets on the Super Bowl, today there are 300 different ways someone can bet on the NFL's biggest game.

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Nevada is the only state with full race and sports books, Delaware offers parlay cards to bet on NFL games during the season, while Oregon and Montana don’t offer any sports betting. Sports betting is also a growing business in Nevada, generating $3.62 billion in handle, and $202.8 million in win last year.

“Sports betting is widespread throughout the U.S. today,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S., in a statement Friday. “Unfortunately, it is mostly illegal, unregulated and untaxed. That serves to benefit the criminals who serve that market today.”

Asher said William Hill shares Silver’s view that the spread of legal sports betting in the U.S. is inevitable.

“We agree with Commissioner Silver that a legal and regulated sports betting industry, like we have in Nevada and elsewhere in the world, is the best way to protect the integrity of sporting events,” Asher said. “It is also the right way to protect consumers, who otherwise turn to the massive illegal market that exists in the United States."

Three-billion dollars might seem like a lot of money, but gaming industry analysts believe the illegal sports betting market tops $350 billion annually. Silver’s argument is simple – sports gambling is happening everywhere anyway, so let’s bring it “out of the underground” and do it the right way.

“Times have changed since Paspa was enacted,” Silver write in a New York Times op-ed on Friday, referring to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Silver wrote that gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted for of entertainment.

“Most states offer lotteries,” Silver wrote. “Over half of them have legal casinos. Three have approved some form of Internet gambling, with others poised to follow. There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events.”

Silver noted that voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly supported a change in the law in a 2011 referendum. To assist Atlantic City’s struggling casinos, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.,  signed legislation authorizing legal sports betting over the objections of the NBA and other professional sports leagues.

Vaccaro said the sports betting industry needed "some one like Adam Silver to do this." He said no doubt about it, we have a long way to go, but this can only up the industry not hurt it.

“In the light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed,” Silver wrote. “Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements.”


Jimmy Vaccaro, manager of the race and sports book at the South Point Casino

Case Keefer, sports betting reporter with the Las Vegas Sun

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