Only in Washington D.C. can the attempt at a hostile takeover be labeled – with some kind of zany accuracy – a compromise.
Late in December, U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Orrin Hatch proposed that the federal government take back control of sports gambling in America. In many respects the move signals Round 2 of a fist-fight between states’ rights and the United States Congress’ desire to control what happens at the sportsbook.
New Jersey won the right to legalize sports betting in a landmark Supreme Court ruling earlier in 2018. But the judicial branch is one thing – Congress is controlled by public opinion. The money-pits from whence our Representatives and Senators spring are controlled by corporations, which specialize in – you guessed it – public relations. And, ahem, media communications too.
That’s why a thrust that must feel like “the Empire striking back” to a few casino magnates and a whole bunch of nickel-and-dime sports betting sites is being branded to the public as a compromise.
Schumer and Hatch are speaking in broad, general terms about the safety of gamblers and athletes, not threatening to make gambling illegal again. Much like the Brexit controversy, the legislation – and litigation – is quickly turning into a web of deal-making complexity that the public is loathe to follow along with in detail.
Guess what? If you’re bored with the story, then your cash is headed toward some of your least-favorite people. Behind the smokescreen lies a darker truth.
The NFL, NCAA and other giants are coming after a piece of the action.
The Ominous Statements from Upstairs
The 3 main statements carried in the Associated Press report on the new Federal bill came from the Senators, the NFL and the NCAA. With little exception, the official remarks seem awfully choreographed and parsed-over as if the 2 so-called “non-profit” business entities and the government are working in cahoots to influence judges and the greater public. Why, imagine that!
Hatch, completely missing the irony, spoke of “stakeholders” in the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, yet another Federal squeeze-job on local betting enterprises that was struck down in May. “I began working with stakeholders to ensure we were doing everything possible to protect the integrity of sports from corruption,” he began. “The legislation we’ve introduced today is the culmination of eight months of high-level meetings, discussions and negotiations, and will serve as a placeholder for the next Congress.”
Translation: We’re trying to figure out how to bribe the NFL and NCAA, so that we don’t have to do anything so unpopular that our approval ratings tank.
“The threats posed to the integrity of sporting contests cannot be confined within state borders,” says the statement from NFL headquarters. “Without continued federal guidance and oversight, we are very concerned that sports leagues and state governments alone will not be able to fully protect the integrity of sporting contests and guard against the harms Congress has long recognized as being associated with sports betting.”
The harms Congress has long recognized as being associated with sports betting. Hey, wasn’t Reefer Madness on TV yesterday?
Finally, if you feel like having one of those Ralph Kramden-style disgusted chuckles, here’s some blather from the NCAA on the new proposal by Hatch and Schumer:
“With legalized sports wagering, the NCAA’s main priorities are protecting student-athlete well-being and the integrity of competition,” reads the statement. “Because of this, we applaud the bipartisan support of Senators Hatch and Schumer in proposing the federal sports wagering legislation. Federal standards are needed to promote a safe and fair environment for the nearly half a million students who play college sports.”
What all 3 quotes leave out is that the Federal solution, if not moving to ban sportsbooks or online betting altogether, could open the door to the charging of “integrity fees” paid from Las Vegas interests to the governing bodies of major sports.
Why, that sounds like something we’re all familiar with. What could it be?
I know. It’s a good ol’ piece of the action.
The Gambling Wars Rage On
The American Gaming Association has come out strongly against the Schumer-Hatch bill but is barely making a dent in the fight for votes in Congress. Public opinion is favorable to sports gambling, but there’s no money in letting the NFL and NCAA stand by without their share of profit.
Momentum is on Uncle Sam’s side, and instead of resting on its laurels, the Empire – er – the government is waging war on other gambling fronts. New York Senator Joseph Addabbo has proposed a bill to legalize online video poker in New York, which is basically a good thing. However, the change would come at a cost – handsome licensing fees and restrictions on the gaming industry. Lindsey Graham, a politician who remains influential in spite of himself, is all-in on the anti-gambling bandwagon.
If the NFL and NCAA (and NBA and NHL) are so concerned with protecting the integrity of sports, why not push for decentralization instead of foisting the entire issue of sports gambling onto an already-overwhelmed and unpopular Congress?
After all, with less central planning comes more freedom for an independent body. The NCAA is not forced to allow the Las Vegas Bowl to take place as it does every season, but it must hold a National Championship Game of college football. If the Federal government were to be swayed by public opinion at any time while having all of the power to legislate sports gambling, there could come a day when there is no “safe haven” for leagues looking to outlaw (or profit from) sportsbooks.
But the big-shots think they’ll win this fight. It may not, however, be a fight worth winning.
When Metallica sued Napster in 2000, the heavy metal group had to think it was protecting its own turf and its own livelihood along with those of countless other bands. Except there was a problem. The rea; story was that the internet had turned music into one big free file-sharing bonanza. Napster was merely the first application that made a library of downloads easy to organize.
In other words Metallica and the rest of the mainstream music industry were planting trees to try to keep the sunrise from happening.
The ease of sports-gaming at online betting sites could eventually make the Federal vs state legal battle an obsolete cause. It isn’t all that hard for Americans to bet online (at BetOnline, no less) and Congress would see its rating sink into the low-singles if it made the point spread illegal.
Still, there’s something about those “integrity fees” that just leave a bad taste in the mouth. We’ll keep you updated with further blog posts as Hatch and Schumer attempt to bring the proposal to a vote.