A national campaign to overturn the federal ban on sports betting outside Nevada got under way this month, giving momentum to sports betting supporters in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania.
The American Sports Betting Coalition, which is made up of state and local elected officials as well as law enforcement and businesses, launched the effort to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which was passed more than two decades ago. That law allows some forms of sports betting in Delaware, Oregon and Montana, but Nevada remains the top purveyor of sports wagering.
The coalition points to a study by Oxford Economics in Pennsylvania that concludes legalizing sports betting would curb ongoing illegal activities valued at $150 billion nationwide. Legalization would also produce $5.3 billion in tax revenue and support more than 150,000 jobs, the research said.
Among the groups that want to lift the ban is the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), whose standing committee recently voted in favor of the idea of lifting the congressional ban on sports betting, according to Jake Lestock, a policy specialist with the NCSL.
“Last year in August, they voted on this directive, allowing states to choose sports gambling within their borders …” Lestock told Watchdog.org in an email. “The federal government must respect the sovereignty of states.”
Across the nation, at least seven states, including Illinois, took up sports betting legislation this year, according to the NCSL. The Illinois measure consists of a joint resolution sponsored by Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park, urging President Donald Trump and Congress to overturn the ban on sports betting.
Sports betting would be a viable source of state revenue for Illinois, Cullerton said. He described Illinois as a gaming state that already regulates horse racing and casino gambling.
“We could be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars easily,” he told Watchdog.org.
Nevada last year reported that sports wagers in the state reached $4.5 billion, with the government netting more than $200 million in revenue, according to Cullerton’s resolution.
The resolution has already passed the state Senate.
“I think we’re in a great position,” Cullerton said. “It’s not as if this were something new in the gaming structure.”
People are already gaming and betting on sports, he said, noting that the Super Bowl alone generates $5 billion in gambling. Illinois has to look at options other than the income and property taxes as sources of income, according to Cullerton.
His chief co-sponsor on the resolution – Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, – says the effort to end the federal ban is bipartisan and something his fellow lawmakers in Illinois are open to.
“It would drive more people to Illinois, especially from surrounding states that don’t have it,” Syverson told Watchdog.org. “It would bring out-of-state sports wagering into Illinois.”
Past concerns about mafia or underworld involvement in sports betting are no longer an issue, he said, thanks to new technologies and strict regulations and oversight that are now in place.
Moreover, Trump is a person who understands the business side of gaming, so he may be more receptive to the idea, Syverson said.
“It is a form of entertainment that can generate significant tourism dollars into Illinois,” he said.
Although Nevada now has a near-monopoly on sports betting, some Nevada lawmakers seem open to the idea of expanding sports betting to other states. The infrastructure already in place in Nevada could assist other states in the development of sports betting, according to Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden.
“Sports betting in other states would have to be controlled through Nevada,” Wheeler told Watchdog.org. That could ultimately benefit the state, he said.
How Nevada lawmakers feel about lifting the ban might also come down to the wording of the legislation, according to Wheeler, who wants to speak with people in the gaming business in Nevada to get their thoughts as well.
Remarks by Jim Murren, the chairman of the American Gaming Association and the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, also signaled Nevada interests would keep an open mind on the issue.
“As the head of the largest private-sector employer in Nevada, I’m confident that the entertainment experience we provide in Las Vegas – which is unmatched anywhere else in the world – can continue to excel even as our country takes a fresh look at our approach to sports betting,” Murren said in a prepared statement.
A bill proposed by Pennsylvania Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Allegheny, would go further than the resolution under consideration in Illinois. Matzie’s legislation, if passed, would immediately allow Pennsylvania to engage in sports betting once the federal ban is lifted – either through congressional or court actions.
“Our Commonwealth is uniquely positioned to oversee sports betting in all its forms, and should be ready to act should the federal ban be lifted …” he said in a prepared statement earlier this year. “Legalizing sports betting will simply enable Pennsylvania to regulate a multimillion-dollar industry that already exists.”