NBA to Lobby Congress for Legal Sports Betting

It seems the NBA is finally going to play its cards all out in the open after going years refusing to take an official stance on sports betting. NBA Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Dan Spillane revealed the decision last week at the Sports Betting USA conference in New York.

“Our general position on sports betting is that it should be legal and regulated, pursuant to a federal framework that has minimum safeguards. We have advisors in DC, we have legislation that we’ve been pulling together, talking with other stakeholders in this area. It’s a slow process…

“When the leagues were all just unanimously opposed to it, it really wasn’t, I think, a practical discussion to have, and now it is… I think that there will be a little bit more clarity, and people will be more open, especially members of Congress, to talking about potential legislation once the [NJ] case is resolved one way or another.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been calling for the legalization of sports betting for years, but the league itself had not taken an official stance one way or another until last week. Last year, the NBA said it would support the legalization of sports betting, but that it would not go out of its way to support any efforts along those lines.

Adam Silver first made his views on the issue widely known in 2014 with an op-ed he penned for the New York Times. In his article, Silver made the case that sports betting is already happening and that public attitudes towards gambling in general have changed. Silver made the point that legalization would help to protect the integrity of the game, identify problem gambling and ensure consumer safety.

That article has been widely cited since then, but the NBA itself has never come out one way or another on the issue – until now. The NBA’s timing is interesting, considering the NBA itself is lining up against New Jersey in its upcoming Supreme Court case challenging the federal sports betting ban.

NBA Opposes New Jersey in Sports Betting Case but Supports Legalization

New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting has been challenged in court every step of the way by the NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. The sports leagues have been successful in preventing New Jersey from repealing state laws prohibiting sports betting. Just last year, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia dealt New Jersey its latest blow with a ruling against New Jersey.

New Jersey appealed that decision to the Supreme Court on the basis that the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is unconstitutional. Against all expectations, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and New Jersey will finally get its long-awaited day in court in the highest court of the land next month.

So, for those following the case, it may seem odd that the NBA has decided to come out in support of legalizing sports betting – even to the point of stating its intentions to lobby Congress to repeal PASPA. Why would the NBA choose now to support legalization even as it lines up against New Jersey in front of the Supreme Court next month?

As Yahoo explains, the NBA and New Jersey “are on the same side in their larger goal.” It just turns out that the NBA is against the state-by-state approach to legalization. If New Jersey wins its case next month, it will open the flood gates for individual states to pass their own sports betting laws. This would most likely lead to a fractured approach with various states each enacting unique laws.

The NBA would rather see sports betting legalized and regulated at the federal level. Here’s how Dan Spillane put it at last week’s conference:

“Our view has been that if it’s illegal [at the federal level], that’s not the right way to start off legal sports betting in the United States — under a cloud, doing it in violation of federal law. At the same time, we agree with New Jersey on the ultimate policy outcome: that having legal, regulated sports betting in the United States is the best place to end up. The disagreement is just on how to get there.”