By Mac Brockmyre
Sports gambling has been an elephant in the room for decades. It would not be a stretch to say that most Americans know somebody that has bet on a game or two, and it has largely been ignored by the general public as a niche hobby (or addiction) of those who go to Vegas or Atlantic City for the weekend. However, there has always been a significant segment of the population that bets with illegal bookmakers, with an estimated revenue of $150 billion per year wagered through illegal sportsbooks. The dark alley of sports betting suddenly had the lights turned on when the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports gambling in Murphy v. NCAA. The Court’s decision opened the doors to legal sports betting that would be regulated by the states, however, it is not just confined to the cigarette stained couches of casino sports books: mobile betting has taken over as a preferred method of gambling because of its ease of use and real-time access to live bets. Now that states across the country have legalized, or are moving to legalize sports gambling, there is a groundswell of concern about how the legalization will affect the integrity of amateur and professional sports.
There has always been a concern over the effect that gambling has had regarding the integrity of sports at all levels. There are infamous scandals relating to sports betting that have caught national attention, such as fixed boxing matches or an NBA referee calling games to benefit his gambling positions. In the grand scheme of things, these seemingly isolated incidents are few-and-far-between. It is difficult to fix an entire game to benefit a gambler, especially at the professional level. However, with the advent of mobile gambling and the proliferation of “prop bets,” the integrity of games at the amateur and professional levels is a developing concern. Let’s say that a star point guard on a college team goes out one night and drinks heavily, has a blow-out fight with his girlfriend at a bar and stumbles back to his dorm room the night before a big game. The point guard’s roommate is an avid gambler and takes note of this development and makes an instantaneous bet on his phone that the player will score under his projected points, will get under the number of projected assists, and the team will lose. One could say that this is not a big deal because it is one person who acted on this information. However, maybe the observant roommate texts a few of his friends, and those friends text more friends and so-on-and-so-forth. This seemingly private information has potentially reached multiple parties, which creates a gambling advantage that the rest of the betting world does not have. This scenario is not ideal, but not as nefarious as if the same two individuals, the point guard, and the roommate, collude such that the player will intentionally miss free throws to secure a prop bet for his roommate. These situations are not far-fetched as 24% of male student-athletes bet money on sports, and that number has likely increased.
Proponents of legal mobile sports betting, such a Jamie Chisholm, DraftKings’ director of global public affairs, state that legalization, “eradicates illegal sports betting, almost all of which takes place through mobile sites and online through offshore operators.” Additionally, the American Gaming Association (AGA) concludes that “legal markets protect consumers and game integrity, add tax revenues to the state coffer and provide viable alternatives for consumers to the dangerous illegal market.” While these sentiments provide hope, they also give insight to the pitfalls that states face with the mobile gambling revolution. Now that states can collect revenue from legalized gambling, their interest in monitoring any chicanery decreases. Sports betting accounted for $21.7 million in revenue for the 2018-2019 fiscal year and that number is projected to increase. The AGA estimates that the revenue for the NFL alone will increase by $2.3 billion/year. There are organizations, such as U.S. Integrity, that provide checks and balances to evaluate such things as line movement, injury information, and referee behavior. Nevertheless, there will be a significant lag between the potential issues that arise with legalized gambling and legislation that could protect the integrity of athletics throughout the country.
Sports betting cannot be bound to state lines and remains a federal issue. While states are allowed to legalize gambling, there needs to be Congressional regulation to prevent the eventual missteps that will result from mobile gambling. Congress will most likely need to enforce age limits, limit the dissemination of private information, battle tax evasion, and ultimately attempt to protect the reliability of the product on our television screens. The sports that we love and adore must not become tainted with the nagging thought in the back of our heads that the game we are watching is not on the level.
Student Bio: Mac Brockmyre is currently a second-year law student at Suffolk University Law School. He is a staffer on the Journal of High Technology Law. Prior to law school, Mac received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting from the University of Richmond and subsequently worked for seven years in the Insurance Industry as a Claims Representative for a Tier 1 Health System.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.