Finding A Balance On Legal Sports Betting Vs. Protecting Game Integrity

Updated on November 30, 2018

This is Part 2 in a two-part series about the Status of Legal Sports Betting in the US. For Part 1, click here.

Now that expansion of legal sports betting seems inevitable, legislators and sports leagues alike face some major concerns.

These were discussed at length at the second annual US Sports Betting Summit taking place on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

Chief areas of concern for sports betting

In Part 1, we highlighted four concerns that any state offering or planning to offer legal sports betting needs to address going forward:

  • Whether Nevada and New Jersey are good models for other states to emulate
  • The rate at which gross revenue from legalized sports betting should be taxed
  • At what point in the legalization process online and mobile sports betting should be made an option
  • Protecting sports integrity

Here in Part 2, the focus will be specifically on protecting sports integrity.

US sports betting and integrity of the game

As expected, the speakers at the Washington sports summit offered somewhat divergent views, depending on whether they were weighing the situation from the perspective of government, sports betting operators or the leagues.

However,  all sides agreed that the increased visibility and accessibility of sports betting would necessitate taking strong proactive measures to continue to protect the integrity of sports.

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The relationship between leagues and sportsbooks

What the sports leagues want

All of the panelists representing professional or collegiate sports leagues stressed the need for sports betting operators and the leagues to work closely with one another.

Dan Spillane, the senior vice president of league governance and policy for the National Basketball Association (NBA), stated that proper training should be provided for anyone involved in professional or collegiate sports in the rules they need to abide by.

The training should include both videos and written materials to best ensure that all of the rules regarding inappropriate conduct are fully understood.

Spillane stressed the need for sports leagues and betting operators to work together to “rule out misconduct and keep things clean.” He would like to see the leagues monitor bets and be on the alert for irregular betting patterns or any unwanted activity on the part of “betting insiders.”

He also indicated that it is important to avoid incidents indicative of a breach of proper conduct before they happen Otherwise the infractions could be seen as evidence of sports programs not doing their job properly.

Jeffrey Stonebreaker, vice president of safety and security for Major League Soccer (MLS), agreed with Spillane on the need for the leagues to monitor betting activity to protect the integrity of the sports.

He also called for background checks to weed out those with a history of criminal activity.

Namia Stevenson, associate general counsel for the NCAA, stated that there needs to be a “sharing of information” between sports betting operators and the leagues. She wants to see federal legislation that would require sports betting operators to cooperate with the leagues.

Concern for players’ rights

On the other hand, Clarence A. Nesbett, general counsel for the NBA, said it is important to protect the rights of the players.

He is worried that some players could wind up facing numerous investigations, not necessarily warranted, where they would have to defend themselves. He fears that 25 percent of players of foreign nationality would be especially vulnerable. For this reason, he favors federal regulations regarding proper conduct rather than leaving the rules up to individual states.

Nesbett further indicated that he is in favor of paying royalties not only to the leagues but also to the players.

Dealing with problem gambling

Another area of concern that was brought up at the sports betting summit was that the increased accessibility of sports betting would create an increased incidence of problem gambling.

According to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, sports bettors are more likely to have a gambling problem than any other type of gambler.

Yet, 20 percent of the states have no funding in place at all for treatment programs for those with a gambling problem. He would like to see federal legislation enacted that would require 1 percent of revenue from sports betting to be said aside for this purpose.

Whyte expressed fear that without such provisions, there could be a consumer backlash against legal sports betting.

Stevenson is in favor of national legislation that would make 21 the minimum age to bet on sports legally. This would help reduce the incidence of out of control underage sports betting.

The future of US sports betting

Clearly, as legal sports betting continues to expand, legislators, sports betting operators, and the various sports leagues will all have a lot of work ahead to ensure that it works smoothly, as intended. The extent to which the federal government needs to be involved is still up for debate.

However, this much is certain. In order for legal sports betting to work as it should, the integrity of the sports cannot be compromised. If sports betting can help bring much-needed money to the states offering it and simultaneously offer quality entertainment and potential profit for those who can use the option responsibly, I foresee a very bright future.

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