Column: Sports betting is here, lucratively and ambiguously

In this March 15, 2018 photo, people watch coverage of the first round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate Superbook sports book in Las Vegas. The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In a Monday morning decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which had made it illegal for states to authorize betting on sports. In the eyes of the courts, that provision was unconstitutional, and sports now have their own modus operandi in who, what, when, where, and how in establishing sports betting in their state, if they choose to at all.

What’s Next?

According to an article on ESPN.com by David Purdum, New Jersey (who led the legal challenge in the courts and will be first), Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all have frameworks in place and/or will be quick to get in the game.

That states were granted autonomy, which may be fleeting, is of supreme importance. The court ruled Congress may impose regulation, but if they do not, or until they do, “each state is free to act on its own”. This goes against the wishes of the major sporting leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and NCAA) who wanted New Jerseys efforts to be defeated in hopes a uniform, nationwide regulation and standard would be implanted. Working with potentially 50 unique systems, rules, and conflicting desires will undoubtedly be more logistically challenging and financially less lucrative for the leagues. Reading in between the lines of Adam Silver’s statement, federal oversight is something they will continue to lobby for.

This move will bring a dark but existing market into the light, with estimates of $150 billion-dollar industry now sanctioned. Mark Cuban told CNBC “I think everyone that owns a top 4 professional sports team just saw the value of their team double”. Daily Fantasy sites like DraftKings as well as other gambling conglomerates are seeing their worth soar as well.

The end game is digital betting. Apps on your phone, widgets on your televisions, and kiosks in stadiums all around. I’m sure some Silicon Valley firm, or a Vegas entity will come out with revolutionary technology. But we’re not there yet. And the bill still only allows for state sanctioned gambling; your local bookie isn’t now suddenly legit. The thought is there is no way states will let this go unregulated.

The expectation isn’t just the money from betting exchanging hands, but that a massively increased viewership and attention to sports will quickly follow. Of course, increased fan populations and TV ratings just begets large marketing and advertising deals.

What about Connecticut? And UConn?

Connecticut and UConn are joined at the hip. Why that is notable right now is the budget deficit hurting both. The boon in revenue from legislated may not be overwhelming but it would be a nice stimulus. Perhaps that has led to foresight in the government as Connecticut is reportedly in a small tier of states ahead of the curve on the issue with developing legislation already taking place.

It will be quite interesting to see how the Nutmeg state proceeds. Attorney General George Jepsen recently stated his belief that the states casino’s will not have exclusive rights on sports betting.In the same breath, local tribes do hold hold those same type of rights on gambling in the state currently.  Will those institutions’ long standing, and potential lobbying power, nudge the state to craft rules favorable to them? It’s possible, and it would be shortsighted to give them too much clout early on in my opinion. Keep the room for growth and upside open and on your side.

UConn will be affected in a myriad of ways. Some of it may be out of their hands. The NCAA could have their own stipulations. But right now, it looks like a great opportunity.  If the state lets them. In neighboring Rhode Island, the state plans to implement sports betting at Twin Rivers casino, but with a caveat preventing betting on Rhode Island teams. Connecticut could do the same. There will be a major impetus to protect the integrity of the game. The NBA not too long ago proposed a 1 percent (per transaction) “integrity fee” that was really a proxy for an intellectual property fee. Industry experts deemed it too high, but the fact is the NBA knows they have to be heavy handed in preventing the legalization from altering on-court behavior.

UConn will bear the same burdens for their teams. They could be, and should be fighting for, a spot in line to get a cut for this. A potential precedent is already unfolding in West Virginia. The agreement, which is not even officially agreed upon, is nebulous but after meetings between West Virginian politicians and officials from the states’ lottery and casinos, word has come out the states two Division 1 Athletic departments, WVU and Marshall, would be in position to receive benefits for wagering in the state.

According to Purdum, the schools could potentially receive their slice of the pie through "an increase in funds from the general budget to help defray costs associated with enforcement issues." This could come in the name of preservation of integrity, or it could come from sin taxes. One proposal had it as pure snippet of every bet placed.

Gambling and betting on sports are perceived, even if increasingly less so, as a vice. UConn won’t even sell alcohol in Gampel Pavillion, now they’re going to be at the forefront of this paradigm shift? It seems unlikely, especially with all the red tape and sanctimonious demeanor associated with the NCAA and collegiate athletics. Compliance issues are going to be plentiful. Plus embracing betting revenues could (I certainly expect it will) exacerbate the debate about player compensation. Professional players unions are going to angle for a cut.

But the government seems ready and willing to go. There are two large casinos probably foaming at the mouth. Congress could step in, but until it does, sports betting appears headed this way. For UConn to sit passively aside would have a tremendous opportunity cost. This is all new and UConn has the power to mold how this will affect them, at least in part.

It won’t be tomorrow (although New Jersey is moving at warp speed), but the reckoning is coming. It is coming to this state, apparently sooner than later.  In Dan Wetzel's piece on Yahoo! he says, "Imagination and innovation will rule." It would be great for the state and the University to show some. Gampel to Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods is just under an hour. Until then, Storrs to Atlantic City is a 4-and-a-half-hour drive.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.