Joe Asher is president and CEO of Brandywine Bookmaking, which operates 17 Lucky's sports books in Nevada and is the exclusive risk manager for the State of Delaware's Sports Lottery.
Americans love to watch sports and Americans love to bet on sports.
Whether it's the office March Madness pool or the friendly Super Bowl bet between New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, sports and betting are part of American culture. Americans place bets to enjoy the game more, and they do it every day and everywhere, and anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding himself. And, it will never stop.
The problem is that over 99 percent of U.S. sports betting is illegal, because sports betting is illegal under federal law in the United States, except in Nevada, and to a limited extent in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. And, in Oregon, it's illegal under state law. So, a massive illegal sports betting market, run by criminals rather than legitimate businesses, thrives in our country. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates that $380 billion worth of sports wagers are placed in the United States annually; Nevada's $2.8 billion market represents less than 1 percent of that.
These illegal wagers—placed through "street bookies" and offshore web sites—are unregulated, untaxed, and leave bettors—who simply want a little action on the game—totally unprotected. Legalizing and taxing sports betting is an easy way for cash-strapped states to raise money and protect citizens from shady operators.
So, why is sports betting illegal? The National Football League is the biggest reason. The NFL led the charge to outlaw sports betting and fights any efforts to legalize what everyone knows is going on. Their professed reason is that wagering affects the integrity of the game. But, that ignores that it is going on anyway, and legal sports books would be the first to report anything shady.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is spot on when he talks about sports betting. Last year, speaking at the University of Delaware, he said, "This whole idea gambling on NFL games is not going on every Sunday everywhere is foolish. It's foolish. It's going on everywhere except now it's being handled by criminals who are benefitting from it. If it's going happen, let's make the conduct legal and let's make the people who participate in it comply with certain laws."
How can anyone seriously argue with him? Why do we let criminals profit and keep legitimate businesses out of the market? Sports betting is legal, regulated, and taxed throughout Europe, and it's a big business. The bookmakers even sponsor teams and take bets from the soccer stadium!
And, here's a thought to ponder: Let's imagine that we could really stop all forms of sports betting in the United States, by arresting all the bookies and shutting every offshore Web site. It would be a disaster for the NFL. Television ratings would plummet and interest would wane. Who would watch the Browns and Chiefs battle it out on Monday night when one team is up 14 points with two minutes to go, other than to see if they'll cover the spread or to see whether the game goes over 48 points? Would advertisers buy that end-of-game spot for anything close to what they charge for it? So, let's get real about this. It's time to legalize sports betting in the United States.