NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has broken ranks with his sports executive brethren, and announced his support for an expansion of legalized sports gambling in the United States in a New York Times op-ed. Silver points out that, despite its widespread illegality, sports gambling is a massive, and growing, business:
But despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites. There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States, but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.
While Silver overstates the shadiness of illegal sports gambling—it takes like four minutes to set up a betting account online—his basic point rings true: Americans want to gamble on sports, and they'll do so whether it is legal or not. He also points out that mainstream sports media outlets (like ESPN) regularly display point spreads, and they're often talked about on broadcasts. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Silver acknowledges that the NBA has long been one of the loudest voices fighting against the legalization of sports gambling:
For more than two decades, the National Basketball Association has opposed the expansion of legal sports betting, as have the other major professional sports leagues in the United States. In 1992, the leagues supported the passage by Congress of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or Paspa, which generally prohibits states from authorizing sports betting.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey recently signed a bill authorizing sports betting at local casinos and horse racetracks, a law the N.B.A. and other leagues have opposed — and a federal court has blocked — because it violates Paspa.
While his stance is groundbreaking, nowhere in Silver's op-ed does he say what steps he or the league will take to help legalize sports gambling, or whether the NBA will stop opposing New Jersey's law.
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