Could Sports Gambling Beat Marijuana to National Legalization?

Experts expect it will be legal within five years.



Marijuana is making serious legalization headway in the U.S., with Alaska recently becoming the third state to legalize the drug. Sports gambling, on the other hand, hasn't made any legalization progress in more than 20 years, when Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), formally legalizing sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon and individual game betting in Nevada. In 2015, those same four states remain the only ones in which any form of sports betting can legally take place.

Yet while marijuana gets all the headlines these days, gambling industry experts believe sports betting will beat pot to nationwide legalization, and in relatively short order too—by the end of the decade.

At the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference over the weekend, ESPN The Magazine editor in chief Chad Millman moderated a session covering legalization efforts. Rounding out the panel were David Purdum, a journalist for ESPN; Ryan Rodenberg, an assistant professor at Florida State University; Dan Spillane, the vice president and assistant general counsel to the National Basketball Association (NBA); and Jeff Ma, the subject of the bestselling book Bringing Down the House. All the panelists seemed to believe nationwide gambling legalization was inevitable, with Purdum and Rodenberg expecting it as soon as 4–5 years.

At this year's Sloan conference, which primarily covers the use of data and analytics in sports and sports performance, nearly every panel—no matter the topic—in some way touched on legalized gambling. Participants discussed everything from how betting would impact the fan experience and sponsorship deals to how data analysis could be employed by professional bettors. Most discussions used the word "inevitable" to describe coming legalization, and one of the research paper finalists was specifically on baseball betting.

Meanwhile at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which also took place this weekend, the "discussion" around sports gambling was quite the opposite—it didn't occur whatsoever. A representative from Sheldon Adelson's Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) movement, Andy Abboud, didn't show up for a scheduled debate with Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Executive Director John Pappas.

Many online poker advocates reportedly thought the no-show stemmed from Abboud's fear of being embarrassed again in a public forum. Abboud made waves at a December 2013 Congressional hearing in which he was called out by three subcommittee members for making hypocritical statements on gambling. He has also been criticized for his performance at a debate last March, when he admitted to being "lost" when it comes to tech issues (despite the fact that he lobbies Congress on exactly such issues) and resorted to calling gambling legalization proponents "Twitter creeps."

The growing confidence that gambling legalization is on the way comes in spite of a recent legal battle in New Jersey in which the state looks unlikely to win the right to legalize sports betting. Instead, legalization is expected to happen at the national level. A bipartisan team of New Jersey congressmen, Democrat Frank Pallone Jr. and Republican Frank LoBiondo, introduced separate bills in late January both aimed at giving the Garden State the ability to allow sports betting. Pallone's bill would exempt New Jersey from PAPSA, while LoBiondo's bill would give all states a four-year window to legalize sports betting.

Rodenberg expects LoBiondo's bill to gain more traction, though so far only Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has joined them in publicly coming out for legalization.

UPDATE: Pallone's and LoBiondo's party identifications have been fixed.

NEXT: That Time Dr. Seuss Drew Those Vile Anti-Japanese-American Cartoons

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  1. A bipartisan team of New Jersey congressmen, Republican Frank Pallone Jr. and Democrat Frank LoBiondo

    You flipped the party registrations.

  2. only Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has joined them in publicly coming out for legalization.

    Wonder what johnny thinks about wagering on MMA, or "human cockfighting" as he calls it when he wants to ban it?

    I'm not seeing any "libertarian moments" coming with the "legalization" of sports betting.

  3. Don't bet on it. Las Vegas still has a lot of political pull, and there are still a lot of goody-two-shoes moralistic voters out there.

    Just a few years ago, the non-gambling non-threatening pastime of online poker playing was outlawed. We are not headed in the right direction. The only reason weed is becoming legal is for tax revenue.

  4. Speaking of Gamboling, I need some stock advice. (Where's shrike when you actually need him)

    So I've been watching Lumber Liquidators recently, and their stock has tumbled because the feds are pulling a Gibson Guitar on them and investigating them for importing some kind of illegal teak wood from the Urals or something. Anyhoo, Friday night Anderson Cooper showed up on their doorstep with a camera crew accusing their wily Chinese factory of labeling their products as CARB-2 compliant, when they're not (cue dramatic music over grainy hidden camera footage).

    Stock tumbled almost 25% today. Anyone think this might be a hot bargain buy if the stock stabilizes after Anderson Cooper gets tired of this story and goes on to the next one?

  5. What are the odds?

  6. We got a casino couple years back. 10 minutes from me. I never go. I'm not a gambler but I would be more inclined to go if they had sports betting.

  7. What's the underlying federal law here that needed to have exceptions made in it in 1992?

  8. Who comes up with all that nonsense?

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