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Casino Lobby Launches Sports Betting Campaign

Group seeks repeal of law banning betting on sporting events and games

The casino industry is pushing to overturn the law banning sports betting. (Courtesy Baishampayan Ghos/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)
The casino industry is pushing to overturn the law banning sports betting. (Courtesy Baishampayan Ghos/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0)

The American Gaming Association is making a wager that a new coalition will convince Congress to repeal a 1992 law that bans most states from allowing sports betting.

The association, which represents the casino industry, will launch the American Sports Betting Coalition on Monday with members that include law enforcement and state and local governments, among others.

The aim is to urge Congress to repeal the 25-year-old law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which was championed by then-Sen. Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat who rose to fame before Congress as a star basketball player with the New York Knicks.

The law prohibits nearly all betting on sporting events and games, although Congress carved out an exception for Nevada. More states, such as Connecticut, have passed legislation saying they, too, now want in on the action — and the potential tax revenue that may come with it.

“Big Government’s 1992 sports betting prohibition has failed to protect sports, fans and communities,” said Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association. “We are partnering with local and state elected officials, law enforcement and other diverse interests to tell Washington to get out of the way.”

The seven-figure effort will include a lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, inside-the-Beltway advertising and a social media effort meant to mobilize sporting fans who’d like to bet on the games they watch.

The American Gaming Association, which last year reported paying out $1.4 million on federal lobbying, has spent years researching public opinion on the issue, including a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner that found slightly more than half of all Americans favor ending the ban, the group said.

Though the coalition does not include any major professional sporting leagues or the unions that represent professional players, some in both camps are said to be discussing the possibility of legalized sports betting, according to news reports as recently as last week.

If leagues and players, which have historically been against repealing the ban, get on board or don’t outright oppose, then the casino industry’s main obstacles will be anti-gambling lawmakers and interest groups and — perhaps more significantly — congressional inaction.

“There’s never been momentum on this issue like there is now,” said Sara Slane, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Gaming Association. “We’re going to be bringing this diverse group of interests to the Hill to start meeting with lawmakers. … It’ll be a steady drumbeat between now and the end of the year when Congress is in session.”

The gaming group estimates that Americans spend at least $150 billion, and perhaps as much as $400 billion, each year on illegal sports wagers.

Some local government officials say they want to legalize and regulate sports gambling, so they can profit from that revenue.

Those dollars “would be great for our local economies,” said Mick Cornett, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, who serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

He noted that even if Congress repealed the 1992 law, it would be up to state and local governments to decide whether they want to open up their jurisdictions to sports betting. That “state’s rights” theme is a signature argument of the new coalition, especially in trying to woo the support, or lessen the opposition, of conservatives who oppose gambling on moral grounds.

President Donald Trump, who used to own casinos, has in the past indicated his support for legalized sports betting. As president, he has said he would follow the effort closely.

In February before the Super Bowl, Trump said he would sit down with league commissioners and law enforcement, during an interview with sportscaster Jim Gray.

“So we wouldn’t do it lightly, I can tell you,” Trump told Gray. “It will be studied very carefully. But I would want to have a lot of input from a lot of different people.”