Considering that it has the largest economy in the world, is one of the freest societies in the west and boasts four of the most popular professional domestic sports leagues of any country, the US is surprisingly conservative when it comes to its moral stance and legislation on sports betting.
Despite being a sports-mad nation, and one that champions freedom of speech amongst other personal choices, sports betting is illegal in the majority of the US states. The major exception is the gambling Holy Land of Nevada, home of Las Vegas. This almost complete ban steams from the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (‘PASPA’), which was a federal law passed in 1992.
Oddly, the bill was not just supported by conservative politicians and anti-gambling organisations but by all four major professional sports leagues in the USA. These were namely the National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.
The reasoning behind the bill, as gathered and summarised from numerous comments on the subject by legislators, can be separated into three primary objectives. One, to prohibit state sanctioned betting and eliminate the possibility of state run sports gambling. Two, to maintain the integrity of sporting events. Three, to ensure that sports gambling is not promoted to vulnerable/susceptible groups.
These are somewhat valid reasons, however, they are undone by two primary facts. The first is that other developed western countries, such as the UK, have maintained huge – if carefully regulated – sports betting industries without their societies falling into moral decay and economic chaos.
Secondly, a sports betting industry already exists within the US – outside of Nevada – but it is an illegal one. Therefore, Americans are already partaking in sports betting but without the security or tax contribution facilitated by legalised gambling structures.
For example, legal gambling revenue from soccer fans – mainly from FA Cup betting – tops £290 million annually in the UK as a whole. However, in the USA only $119.4 million was legally wagered on sports betting in Nevada, whilst an additional $396 billion is bet across the country through illegal channels.
Therefore the USA, despite being ten-times larger than the UK, turns in less legal turnover for sports gambling. Moreover, billions of illegal bets are currently funding crime and taking tax revenue away from public services. Surely, if the audience is already there and willing to go through alternative channels, then legalisation would at least create some form of damage control.
Indeed, this is a way of thinking that seems to be growing more popular in the US, with certain experts identifying a strong nationwide push for acceptance and legalization of this popular pastime. This is a push that is most definitely needed.
Not only should American sports fans be trusted to make their own, informed and adult, decisions over their betting choices but they should also not be forced to go down alternative, and questionable, routes for a service readily available in many of America’s peer countries. Moreover, with the boom in illegal sports gambling to consider, legalisation will only lead to the money already being spent becoming taxable and therefore beneficial to society as a whole.