Americans may have bet more than $100 million on the most-anticipated fight of the year between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. But anyone who decided to take some action outside of Nevada was probably doing so illegally, although many may not have known they were doing so.
More than 60 percent of Americans cannot accurately identify whether sports betting is legal in their state.
Instead of betting legally through a trustworthy and tax-paying business, many players wager with offshore websites domiciled overseas with little to no accountability or security.
Every major sporting event and the surge of betting that accompanies it serves to highlight the absurd state of America’s outdated and counterproductive prohibition on sports betting.
Passed by Congress in 1992, the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act bans states from introducing their own legal sports betting regimes, with Nevada being the exception.
In a report released Thursday by Reason Foundation, my colleague Julian Morris and I highlight the panoply of bad outcomes PASPA has produced and the host of benefits the country would enjoy from its repeal.
Passed with the laudable intention of preventing game-fixing by removing the gambling aspect from sports, PASPA’s original sponsors did not foresee what was to come. Instead of preventing corruption in sports, PASPA spawned a wider corruption with a multi-billion dollar black market in sports betting.
Estimates suggest about $155 billion is bet on sports in America each year — 97 percent of it illegally.
Furthermore, as our report highlights, pushing sports betting into the illegal market actually increases the risk of game-fixing, with law enforcement unable to effectively track betting patterns or history.
Prohibition against gambling also means losing out on substantial tax revenue, as well as jobs. According to Oxford Economics, legalizing sports betting nationwide would increase gross domestic product by $11.6 billion-$14.2 billion and create 125,000-152,000 new jobs, generating $4.8 billion-$5.3 billion in tax revenue.
Sports fans, leagues, and associations would also benefit. Research shows that fans are more engaged when they bet on sports. That engagement would translate into higher viewership and other forms of participation in sporting events.
Legalization would not, as some prohibitionists might have it, increase the risks of gambling addiction. In well-regulated legal markets such as the United Kingdom and Australia, sports betting companies offer consumers ways to manage their betting in order to reduce problem gambling.
Prohibitionist arguments when it comes to sports betting hold little sway with the American people. More than 60 percent believe sports betting should be legal, and 70 percent believe it should be regulated by the states.
Legislatures across the country from New Jersey to Oregon have already begun the process of trying to unravel sports betting prohibition by introducing legislation and holding referendums to have their own legal sports betting regimes.
In a 2011 referendum, the citizens of New Jersey voted to legalize sports betting in the state. But by prohibiting states from legalizing sports betting, PASPA arguably exceeds the federal government’s constitutional authority, effectively commandeering states to pursue its bidding against the will of the people.
Even former supporters of PASPA argue it makes sense to review the law. Former Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., who introduced PASPA in the Senate, told Reason Foundation:
“Any law that’s been on the books for as long as PASPA has to be reviewed, particularly something dealing with gambling and other sports safety provisions. I think an oversight hearing would be appropriate.”
PASPA is demonstrably doing more harm than good. Like other prohibitions, PASPA has turned Americans into scofflaws and the law itself into a punchline.
Repealing PASPA would ensure sporting events would be less vulnerable to game-fixing, generating jobs and revenue and banishing the dark cloud of crime and illegality that hangs over sporting life today.
This column first appeared in the Washington Examiner.