Pro Players Chime In on Sports Betting

The players’ unions for the four major professional sports leagues, including the NLFPA (l.), say they want a seat at the table when any fees are discussed in connection with legal sports betting.

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The players’ unions for the four major U.S. professional sports leagues—the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL—issued a statement last week urging a seat at the table when discussing who will benefit from legal sports betting, once the federal ban imposed by the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is lifted.

With predictions increasing that PASPA will be repealed—either by the U.S. Supreme Court in New Jersey’s challenge to the ban or by congressional action—the more than 20 states that have introduced legislation to regulate legal sports betting have been targets of lobbyists for the leagues, who are pushing for an “integrity fee” ranging from 0.25 percent to 1 percent of all wagers on their leagues’ sports.

Last week’s statement from the players’ unions supports legalizing sports betting with a fee to the leagues, as long as the players get a piece of the action.

“Given the pending Supreme Court decision regarding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) … The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs. Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses,” the Players Associations said in the joint statement.

“Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses. The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.”

Sports betting advocates headed by the American Gaming Association have criticized the proposed integrity fees as a cash grab by the leagues that could end up costing sports betting operators the ability to offer odds competitive with those offered by illegal bookmakers.

Dr. Laila Mintas of Sportradar, a company that works with the officials and players of several leagues to deter scandals, supported the players’ unions in an interview with CNBC. “All relevant stakeholders, including player unions, need to have a seat at the table as we approach this potential landmark change in the sports betting landscape in the United States,” Mintas said. “Maintaining the integrity of sport must be a key cornerstone of the discussions.”

The NBA is on board with the players’ request for a seat at the table. “We welcome the involvement of our players in this process and believe there is an alignment of interests of everyone involved in professional sports to protect the integrity of our competitions,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told CNBC.

The head of the Professional Golf Association also made a statement last week in favor of legalized sports betting and the opportunities is would present his sport. PGA Tour Commissioner jay Monahan said in an interview with USA Today that legal sports betting would “better ensure the integrity of your competitions,” adding that wagering would help the PGA tour reach a “much broader audience.”

“The point some people will make is that we are now actively supporting legalized gambling,” Monahan said. “Well, yes, we are.”

Meanwhile, the argument that legal sports betting should effectively compete against illegal bookmakers was made last week by Tim Donaghy, formerly an NBA official for 13 years, in an interview with a Michigan radio station.

“It’s big business for the mob in regard to bookmaking,” Donaghy told David “Mad Dog” Demarco of 730AM The Game in Lansing, Michigan. “It’s something they very much have their hands in and if it’s taken away from them, it’s going to hurt a little bit. It’s another reason to legalize it, not only for the tax dollars, but also get it out on the open and have it regulated.”

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in the New Jersey case, Christie (Murphy) v. NCAA, sometime this spring. Last week, a prominent New Jersey attorney predicted that the court will decide for New Jersey and invalidate PASPA.

“All signs point to New Jersey prevailing,” Daniel Wallach, a gaming lawyer at Becker & Poliakoff, told Bloomberg. Wallach predicted that Atlantic City casinos will take bets by the start of the NFL season in September.

According to the Bloomberg report, traders on political odds market PredictIt give PASPA a 27 percent chance of surviving.