Nevada Representative Dina Titus (NV-1) has been on record many times reiterating her distaste for a federal framework for sports betting. After all, the state of Nevada has had legal casino-style gaming, including sports betting, since 1949. With nearly 70 years of experience under its belt, Nevada doesn’t need any (or want) any input from, well, novices. As the old saying goes, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“I don’t think it’s a very good idea, it’s reinventing the wheel,” Titus told Sports Handle on Tuesday. “Nevada has been doing this for a long time and we do it very well. You’re going to have to start from whole cloth if you start from the federal level. The more states that move into this, and there are five already, the less appetite there would be for a federal framework.”
But with just about a month remaining in the current Congressional session, mid-term elections looming in November, and much bigger fish to fry — the Kavanaugh hearings, balancing the budget, settling the latest version of the farm bill — Congress is again dipping its toes into the world of sports betting.
Nevada’s Titus Says Federal Sports Betting Framework Just a Case of Starting From Scratch
Four months after the Supreme Court struck down the the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) on Tenth Amendment grounds, Congress is taking the first step at deciding whether to regulate an industry where regulation is already occurring in seven states, including Pennsylvania, where sports betting was legalized in 2017 (pending the SCOTUS decision) but regulators have not yet finalized the rules.
The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations on Thursday will host a hearing titled “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America.”
Among those testifying Thursday will be Sara Slane, the American Gaming Association’s senior vice president of public affairs. The AGA has long been in the same camp as Titus.
“It is the obligation for members of Congress to stay informed about the landscape and for us to advocate against any unnecessary framework,” Slane told Sports Handle. “My hope is that they understand that sports betting is in good hands at state level and that we also work closely with oversight from the federal government. Hopefully what they are looking to address is already being handled. If they are under belief that there are regulations or consumer protections that are not being addressed, we’re happy to listen.”
The short list of witnesses also includes NFL executive vice president of communications and public affairs Jocelyn Moore, University of Illinois professor John Warren Kindt, Nevada Gaming Control Board chairperson Becky Harris, and counselor Jon Bruning of the anti-online gaming lobbying group, the Coalition to Stop Online Gambling, which is backed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
The goal? Likely little more than education, as the witness list doesn’t include enough voices to influence policy. Missing are the most vocal of the professional leagues — Major League Baseball and the NBA. The timing of the hearing is also a bit odd — on May 14, just hours after PASPA was overturned, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch vowed to revisit the subject, but it wasn’t until August that Hatch introduced the topic in a speech to his fellow senators and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer released a memo to ESPN detailing his thoughts on a federal sports betting framework.
“Tomorrow is going to be an educational forum for Congress, they’re obviously really busy, with a lot on their plates,” Slane said.”This all happened fairly quickly. We’re going to do two things — talk about our industry and how well regulated we are, and also where we are with state legalization.”
There has been no formal mention of sports betting in the House until now, and several members of the committee did not return inquiries for comments for this story. Congress adjourns on Dec. 13 and there is little time in the current session to craft or even consider passing a sports betting law.
“I’m surprised that there is even a hearing,” Titus said. “We knew Hatch had mentioned it, and this goes back to last May, but we don’t expect anything very substantive to come from this. … I don’t see much coming out of it in terms of policy. If they were going to move forward with this in any serious way, we’d see a lot more people at the table.”
Titus, who is not on the subcommittee, said she will monitor Thursday’s hearing. Nevada has a big stake in preventing a federal framework for sports betting from becoming a reality. The state has long managed every aspect of gaming on its own and feels it has had great success. The last thing Nevada — or any of the states that have legalized sports betting — wants is a new set of rules prescribed at the federal level, not necessarily tailored to the state’s specific needs or regulatory infrastructure.
Since PASPA was overturned, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia have licensed operators and those states have begun collecting tax revenue, while Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have legalized sports wagering but are still preparing to open up shop. Of the 17 members of the subcommittee, only one — Keith Rothfus (PA-12) — is from a state that has legalized sports betting.
The state of Nevada has been lending its expertise not only to states new to sports betting, but to the federal government, as well. Titus pointed out that Nevada’s gaming chief will be among the witnesses on Thursday and said Harris will “talk about how we’ve been doing it and doing it well.”
Besides her verbal comments, Titus joined forces with New Jersey Republican Thomas MacArthur (NJ-3) in speaking out against a federal sports betting framework.
“As members from states that have already legalized, regulated, and opened the doors to sports betting, we have seen the success of regulation at the state level, and feel proposals for a federal framework should be approached with caution,” the pair wrote in a letter addressed to the subcommittee chairman, Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-5), and ranking member Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).
“My subcommittee will look at the implications of this SCOTUS ruling and talk about what it means for the integrity of sports as well as what sorts of improper or illicit activities could arise,” Sensenbrenner told ESPN last week. “Ultimately, we want to determine whether or not a basic federal framework is necessary to guide states’ new gambling policies.”
The Idea ‘Should Be Approached With Caution’
Titus’ and MacArthur’s letter goes on to review Nevada’s successes at not only regulating legal sports betting, but also preserving the integrity of games and addressing gambling addiction. In the letter, Titus and MacArthur also point out the the concern many stakeholders have about tamping down the illegal sports betting market.
“An illegal market lacks consumer protections and threatens the integrity of sports we know and love. Sports betting and protecting the integrity of these games are not new; sports betting organizations have had to manage threats to integrity with the $150 billion wagered annually in the illegal sports betting market, when states other than Nevada were prohibited from from legalizing and regulating sports wagering,” the letter reads.
New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone (NJ-6) is another voice for protecting consumers and against federal intervention.
“I’m pleased that states like New Jersey that have adopted sports betting laws have included consumer protections, which make federal legislation unnecessary at this time,” Pallone said in an e-mail statement to Sports Handle. “I will continue to monitor state action.”
Besides the obvious concern of additional regulation, the specter of a federal framework puts those states that already have local laws governing sports betting in a tricky position. Should a federal framework emerge, how would states like Nevada, New Jersey or Delaware adapt?
“Now you’re going to create a gap in enforcement,” Titus said. “Will a federal framework set a minimum standard that you need to meet or will it be higher than what we have? If you want to do something for the protection of gamers or the policy of gaming, we already do that. The main goal is to go after people who are doing this illegally, not the people who are doing it right.”
Thursday’s hearing is really just the first baby step into Congress even entertaining the idea of developing a federal framework. Titus said she is not aware of any sports betting bills in the works on the Hill, but if there was one, she would expect it to come from Hatch’s office. That said, Hatch, 84, is a lame duck who will not seek re-election. One of the original architects of PASPA, Hatch appears to be reaching to find some way to leave a legacy after PASPA was struck down.