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After Epic Super Bowl, U.S. Sports Betting Push Picks Up Steam

By Chris Sieroty, GamblingCompliance

A new poll has found only 15 percent of American adults admit they would bet on the Super Bowl if it were legal to do so, a surprisingly low percentage given the amount of money the casino industry’s main lobbying group estimates was wagered illegally this year.

The poll was released as two Republican lawmakers in Maryland introduced legislation to legalize sports betting should the federal ban be overturned by the courts or Congress.

The Seton Hall Sports Poll mostly focused on Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, won by the Patriots after an epic comeback.

Rick Gentile, director of the poll, found that 10 percent acknowledged wagering on the game, either through a bet, a pool or a fantasy league, whereas 84 percent said they had no wager on the game.

Gentile then asked 661 adults nationwide whether they would have bet on the game if sports gambling was legal in their state.

Among the respondents, 15 percent said yes, whereas 79 percent said they would not place a Super Bowl bet, and 6 percent said they did not know.

The poll outcome appears to reflect the lingering stigma attached to betting, according to Gentile.

“Historically, we’ve gotten the same response,” he told GamblingCompliance.

“We’ve asked this question in various forms for ten years. People simply don’t want to admit they have or will gamble on the Super Bowl or March Madness.”

“I keep asking the question because it’s fascinating to hear their responses,” Gentile said.

In the only state in U.S. where sports wagering is fully legal, betting handle on the Super Bowl in Nevada set a record this year of $138.5m.

Nevada’s sportsbooks won about $10.9m, or just under an 8 percent hold, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Still, the American Gaming Association (AGA) estimated that Americans wagered a total of $4.7bn on the Super Bowl, with 97 percent of the bets, or $4.5bn, being placed illegally due to the federal ban signed into law in 1992.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) bans single-game wagering in all states bar Nevada, while allowing very limited wagering in Delaware, Montana and Oregon.

Even as pollsters and lobbyists debate the potential of legalized sports betting, there are a number of states that have filed new legislation since January 1 aimed at authorizing legal sports betting in spite of the federal ban.

The latest effort is in Maryland, where a pair of Republican state delegates — Jason Buckel and Kevin Hornberger — have filed House Bill 989, which would establish a “Task Force to Study the Implementation of Sports Gaming.”

The goal of the group would be to recommend a policy for the state should there be some change in the federal law outlawing sports betting.

“The introduction of a sports-betting bill in Maryland is the latest indication of a growing desire to lift the federal sports-betting ban,” said Erik Balsbaugh, vice president of public affairs at the AGA.

“With public support behind them, states are realizing that lifting the ban would allow them to recapture lost revenues that could support vital public services,” Balsbaugh said.

The Maryland task force would consist of three delegates, three state senators, the director of Maryland’s gaming regulatory agency, plus representatives from the state’s casino and horseracing industries.

Casinos and racetracks would be eligible to apply for a “sports gaming license,” according to the seven-page bill. HB 989 is currently being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee in Annapolis.

To become reality, HB 989 would require either a congressional repeal or amendment to PASPA, and approval by a state-wide voter referendum at the next November election following its passage.

Through the bill, Maryland has joined Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina as states that have introduced sports-betting legislation this year, with one eye on PASPA’s demise.

New Jersey has passed a series of sports-betting bills in recent years in defiance of PASPA, with a legal appeal currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“You are going to see more states enacting ‘stand-by’ legislation,” said Daniel Wallach, a gaming attorney with Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Wallach told GamblingCompliance on Monday that these bills “would enable states to take advantage right away” of any changes in federal law.

“For the first time we are on the verge of something,” Wallach said. “As many as eight to ten states will have these bills. In some cases they’ll be bills to change the state constitution, others will allow them to be ready when the law changes.”

Maryland’s bill was introduced about a week after Michigan Representative Robert Kosowski introduced House Bill 4060, which aims to allow the state’s land-based casino license holders to accept wagers on sporting events.

Similar to Maryland, Michigan residents would first have to approve the measure in a state-wide referendum.

Wallach expected the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a hearing on New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court delayed a ruling on whether it would take up New Jersey’s latest challenge to the scope of PASPA.

Instead, the court asked the U.S. solicitor general’s office for advice on its consideration of a federal appeals court ruling that New Jersey’s 2014 sports-betting legislation violates federal law.

The court’s decision to ask for the solicitor general to file a brief on behalf of the federal government means a decision could take several more months, especially since President Trump has not named a new solicitor general yet.

In a 9-3 decision last August, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said New Jersey’s sports-betting law violates PASPA.

However, Wallach went so far as to predict the “Supreme Court will invalidate PASPA by June 2018.”

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