It’s the opening weekend of the NFL season, and chances are someone you know will be making a bet on one of the games. It will probably be illegal.
The American Gaming Association estimates that 98 percent of the $90 billion bets on the NFL this season will be placed through illegal online websites or bookmakers. The group estimates that roughly $150 billion was bet illegally on sports over the last year.
Congress put a federal ban on sports gambling outside Nevada and three other states in 1992. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was enacted to protect the integrity of the game and people’s wallets. Now, some states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey want Congress to lift the ban so they can get a piece of the action.
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“Right now, you have a huge illegal market. No jobs. No tax revenue,” said Sara Rayme, with the American Gaming Association. “Nevada's done a great job regulating legalized sports betting, and I think other states want to do the same thing and be able to offer patrons and consumers a safe and reliable way to bet on sports.”
In the past, major sports leagues have fought against the legalization of sports betting outside Nevada, but their stances are softening in recent years. Rayme points to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver coming out and calling for a legal, regulated and transparent sports betting system.
“This going to promote more integrity to the game itself, because you’ll be able to track when irregular betting is happening,” Rayme said. “You’ll also have more consumer protections in place.”
A federal court recently denied the state of New Jersey the right to legalize sports betting in that state for a third time. It could end up going to the Supreme Court.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, supports lifting the ban and giving the states the right to regulate and tax the bets.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, said it’s an important issue Congress should debate.
“Left unregulated, left unchecked there is the opportunity for abuse,” Lynch said. ”If it’s going to happen, I’d like to bring it into an area that can be administered in a way that minimizes the harm.”
Opponents argue that lifting the ban would promote gambling and all of the negative side effects that come with it, but Rayme is confident it will be brought up in the next few years.
“This is going take a good three to five years before something happens,” said Rayme. “But we'll take a bet that it’ll be on the next president's desk.”
The estimates do not include money spent on legal daily fantasy sports contests like Fan Duel and Draft Kings.
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