AGA provides backers of sports betting ammunition for state legalization By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports April 2, 2019 at 8:00 pm After a fast and furious sprint out of the starting gate, the expansion of legal sports wagering across the U.S. has slowed to a trotter’s pace. For many state legislative bodies – working under abbreviated sessions and facing other complicated issues – sports betting legalization isn’t viewed as a pressing matter. AGA CEO Bill Miller Last week’s Sports Betting Executive Summit at MGM National Harbor highlighted “the difficulty in getting legislation passed,” said the American Gaming Association’s Sara Slane. The Washington D.C.-based trade organization provided some research that might help state lawmakers push sports betting legislation across the finish line. Eight out of 10 Americans surveyed on behalf of the AGA said they support legalizing sports betting in their state, even if they don’t plan to participate in the activity themselves. Of the nearly 6,800 people questioned nationwide at the end of last year by Heart + Mind Strategies, the research found 78 percent support sports betting in respondents’ respective states, up 25 percent from a previous study in January 2017 and 17 months before the U.S. Supreme Court ended a federal ban on legal sports wagering outside Nevada. Even persons categorized in the survey as “uninterested” in placing a sports bet favored legalizing the activity in their state by 66 percent. “This research confirms that consumers want the ability to wager in safe, regulated markets,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller. Which leads to one of the key messages the AGA has been advocating concerning sports wagering – the more states that legalize the activity, the greater the chance they will slice into the illegal sports betting marketplace that remains prevalent online through unregulated off-shore gambling sites. “At the federal level, there are things some agencies can look to enforce, such as advertising restrictions on the illegal market,” said Miller, a longtime Capitol Hill lobbyist who took over as the head of the AGA in January. “We’re putting a spotlight on the difference between legal and illegal sports betting.” On major events, such as the Super Bowl and NCAA basketball tournament, the AGA estimated billions of dollars are lost in wagers placed with illegal sports betting operations. That’s potential tax revenue being missed out by states that have been slow to enact legalization and regulation. The survey found widespread uncertainty concerning the illegal sports betting landscape. More than 73 percent of those questioned said it was important to wager through legal and regulated providers, but only 41 percent said they know placing a bet with a bookie is illegal. The survey also found that just 44 percent of those questioned who live in legal sports betting states actually realize their casino sports books are legal. In the 10 months since the Supreme Court decision, seven states – Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Mexico – have joined Nevada in allowing casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting facilities. Oregon, Arkansas and Washington D.C. have voted to legalize or authorize sports betting but have yet to begin operations. Meanwhile, according to Legal Sports Report, there are 35 states with either active or pre-filed sports betting legislation, encompassing 139 different sports betting bills. In Illinois, there are six competing bills; Iowa has eight, Massachusetts and Missouri seven each. You can easily see where confusion can reign. Miller hopes the AGA’s research provides lawmakers who are backing legalizing sports betting with some ammunition. Consumers – their constituents – want the opportunity to participate in the activity, legally. “I think politicians are typically pretty good at understanding what constituents want and providing that for them,” Miller said. “The Supreme Court decision opened the possibilities for states. People prefer to bet on sports legally, and that’s a way for the state to gain limited revenues that is beneficial to the state.” The research numbers are out there: 97 percent of those who placed sports bets in the last 12 months want their state to legalize the activity, as do 97 percent of those who are just casual bettors. Those who’ve never placed a sports bet, but would be interested, favor legalization by 96 percent. Miller said the results of the research show the Supreme Court has “created a large opening” for lawmakers favoring sports betting legalization. “Usually, there is pressure only to move against something,” Miller said. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.