Two Times a Charm for Federal Sports Betting Tax?

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus (l.) has introduced a bill to scrap a tax on sports betting handle that dates back to the early 1950s. It’s her second attempt. This go-around she’s hoping for a better result.

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to repeal an age-old federal tax on sports betting wagers.

It’s a battle she’s fought before without success, as she recently told the news site Sports Handle, but she’s hoping this time will be different.

“We still have trouble in Washington with the old, negative images of gaming. Reduce the tax on gaming, ‘Oh that’s a sin.’ So it’s a hard sell,” said the six-term Democrat, whose first congressional district includes most of the Las Vegas Strip and a portion of Downtown.

“The industry is hindered by an outdated tax code and burdensome regulations that penalize legal, regulated operators while providing illegal operations with an unfair advantage,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, the bill’s Republican co-sponsor.

The tax dates back to 1951, when Nevada was the only state with legal gambling and legal sports betting and the industry was viewed across most of the country as unsavory at best and at worst criminal.

Initially set at a punishing rate of 10 percent of handle the levy was enough to precipitate the closure of 20 of the 24 books operating in Nevada at the time, including all 13 books in Las Vegas.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s, when the tax was cut to 2 percent, that the sector revived. It was reduced again in 1982 to 0.25 percent.

Titus tried early in her tenure in Congress to get it repealed with a stand-alone bill that went nowhere.

But much has changed since, with regulated sports betting spreading rapidly nationwide and major sports leagues and the media enthusiastically on board, and the time may finally be ripe for killing it.

“The common enemy remains these illegal offshore sportsbooks that don’t have these tax obligations,” American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller said. “We should do everything we can to support the legal system that still is competing with both the illegal corner books and the offshore illegal sites. Whatever the rationale in 1951 was, it’s time for us to support the legal industry.”

This go-round, Titus is planning a different approach, making the rounds of the House’s informal gaming caucus, seeking additional sponsors and talking to the staffs of committees where the bill might have legs.

“If we can get it put into a (pandemic) recovery package or in Ways and Means or one of those ‘Christmas tree’ packages, whatever it takes, that would be fine,” she said.