A powerful coalition to end the failed experiment of the prohibition on sports betting emerged this week, commanding the support of law enforcement officials, states' rights advocates, policymakers and industry leaders.
Launched Monday, the American Sports Betting Coalition is campaigning to end one of the most ineffective and counterproductive laws on the books: the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Introduced by Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and passed in 1992, PASPA bans traditional sports betting outside of Nevada, with other states forbidden from legalizing sports betting. The law was intended to protect the integrity of the game from fixing and prevent sports from becoming a vehicle that would promote gambling to young people. In the Senate, it was argued that sports betting was a national problem and one that produces "moral erosion."
But 25 years later it's PASPA, not sports betting, that is contributing to "moral erosion," turning ordinary people into lawbreakers and keeping billions of dollars in the hands of organized crime.
For laws to be effective, they must command the respect of the people who have to obey them. If people think a law is unjust and unenforceable it will be widely ignored and rendered ineffective.
PASPA is a clear case of such a law. In 2016, Americans wagered more than $15 billion on the Super Bowl and the NCAA men's basketball tournament. An eye-watering 97 percent of that $15 billion was bet illegally. The total black market for sports betting is estimated to be up to $150 billion, according to the American Gaming Association. PASPA has neither deterred nor prevented millions of people from engaging in sports betting.
What PASPA has produced, however, is a thriving black market, widespread disobedience, and drains on law enforcement resources. "PASPA is clearly not working as intended since it was signed into law in 1992," says Tim Murphy, former deputy director of the FBI and chair of the AGA's Illegal Gambling Advisory Board. "If we want to address illegal sports betting today and its associated criminal activity, we need to regulate it."
This level of widespread failure may explain why most people, regardless of party affiliation, agree that a legal, regulated sports betting market is preferable to one that operates in the shadows under the influence of criminal cartels.
According to polling from Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Trump voters support ending the federal sports betting ban by nearly two-to-one, while 57 percent of independents, 58 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Democrats also support ending the ban.
Not only is legalization popular, but it is good for the integrity of the game itself. When sports betting is illegal, the potential for corruption is far greater than in legal, regulated markets where sportsbooks have strong incentives to avoid game fixing.
According to the International Council for Sports Security, legal sports betting regimes such as those in the United Kingdom and Australia are less vulnerable to criminal interference. Cooperation between sportsbooks and law enforcement combined with the ability of private sector companies to detect instances of game fixing provide a measure of integrity and security that is currently unavailable to U.S. sports thanks to PASPA.
Legalizing sports betting would not only help safeguard the integrity of sports but would also provide huge economic benefits. If sports betting were to be legalized, it could add up to $14 billion to the economy, generate up to $5.3 billion in additional annual tax revenue, and create as many as 152,000 jobs.
History is littered with examples of well-intentioned laws that produced worse outcomes than the alleged problems they tried to solve. After years of failure, it is time for Congress to correct a quarter-century-old mistake by moving beyond PASPA and prohibition and allow states to create safe, legal and prosperous sports betting markets.
Guy Bentley (@gbentley1) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a consumer freedom research associate at the Reason Foundation and was previously a reporter for the Daily Caller.
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