State lawmakers hear concerns about in-play sports betting from NCAA, pro leagues By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports January 21, 2020 at 5:00 pm SAN DIEGO – Naima Stevenson Starks offered up a slight smile when I asked her if the NCAA was no longer concerned about the nationwide expansion of legal sports betting. Of course the college sports governing organization, which spent years fighting an ultimately losing battle against New Jersey’s efforts to overturn the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, wishes the activity would go away. But it’s way past closing time for that barn door. Legal sports betting is now active in 14 states, with at least a half-dozen more on the way. Instead, the NCAA wants to curtail, if not altogether eliminate, legal wagering on the performances of its athletes. During a panel discussion at the recent National Council of Legislators from Gaming States winter meeting, Starks, the vice president of hearing operations for the NCAA, said she had two primary concerns about sports betting’s rapid growth. One is the impact on students and integrity in competition; the other deals with student athletes getting involved in the activity. She didn’t mention the outright ban on sports betting involving games on colleges and universities, but that does not mean the organization is tossing in the towel on the subject. Naima Stevenson Starks of the the NCAA (r) and Major League Baseball Counsel Marquest Meeks speak at NCLGS/Photo by Howard Stutz “The NCAA has always been involved in sports wagering issues,” Starks said. “Post PASPA, the NCAA has been working as a resource for our members. We’re operating in a different environment now.” The panel discussion, which included representatives from Major League Baseball and the NFL Players Association, concerned the role that sports themselves play in legal sports betting. Starks said the NCAA is concerned about “betting on the performance of a student athlete,” such as proposition wagers and in-game wagering involving college players. She said student athletes “are competitive by nature” and she doesn’t want to see a situation where an unpaid college football or basketball player is swayed by outside influences. “We don’t want student athletes walking around thinking about betting on their sport,” Starks said. “We have to make sure our student athletes are educated on sports wagering and the impact it could have on their eligibility.” Needless to say, the NCAA is supportive of moves by New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island to prohibit wagering on colleges and universities in their respective states. Sports betting proposals in California and Washington follow that model. Under its yet-to-be enacted law, Illinois made in-state collegiate games off-limits to sportsbooks. Indiana – the home state of the NCAA’s headquarters – prohibits in-game wagering on college contests. However, sports betting operators believe any type of ban on college or university games provides an open invitation to allow illegal offshore betting sites and illegal bookies access to a legal market. “I’m not a fan of prohibiting wagering on in-state college teams,” William Hill US CEO Joe Asher said when asked in November about California’s sports betting proposal, which has been offered up by a coalition of tribal casino operators. Asher’s Las Vegas-based company operates sports betting in 10 states for casinos and racetracks, including New Jersey. “It makes it that much harder to compete with the black-market bookies,” Asher said. Nevada had a ban on games involving the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV until 2001. The late Senator John McCain sought to remove betting lines of all college games from Nevada sportsbooks, citing the prohibition on Nevada schools. State gaming regulators, in response, changed the regulations and legalized wagers on UNR and UNLV. As for integrity matters, sports gambling historians point to the 1994 Arizona State University basketball point shaving scandal, which was uncovered by Las Vegas sportsbook operators. Oddsmakers noticed an unusual amount of wagering activity on somewhat meaningless games involving Arizona State and grew concerned about possible line fixing. They alerted Nevada gaming regulators, officials from the then-Pac 10 Conference, and the FBI. An investigation ultimately led to criminal convictions. Sportsbook operators are also quick to point out that in-game wagering doesn’t happen on every college football or basketball game. Meanwhile, NFL Players Association Staff Counsel Joe Briggs told the NCLGS conference he’s concerned about performance wagering effects on professional players. “A player might have to think more about what they do on the field that could put themselves or their families at risk,” said Briggs, describing a player missing a couple of passes that might cost a gambler “$10,000.” In all honesty, if someone is betting $10,000 on one particular in-game wager, whether college or pro, they should have sat through the previous panel that discussed responsible gaming. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.