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A 'perfect storm' is brewing for legalized sports gambling

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

The American Gaming Association, the foremost lobbying group on behalf of casinos and gaming operators, began ramping up its PR effort to repeal PASPA (the 1992 federal law that banned sports betting) well before the presidential election.

But now the organization says that a “perfect storm” is brewing in its favor.

“We have a perfect storm coming together,” says AGA president Geoff Freeman. “You have leagues, you have broadcasters, you have law enforcement, you have the casino industry—everyone is acknowledging that we are better off having a regulated environment.”

And there is renewed optimism thanks to Donald Trump, a former casino owner turned POTUS.

Casino and gambling supporters are optimistic that Trump could smile on their efforts, not just due to his casino past, but because his casino past was not a controversial issue during the campaign. That, coupled with Las Vegas getting a pro hockey team, are encouraging to Freeman and the AGA.

“Look at what happened in 2016, it was a remarkable year,” Freeman says. “You had an NHL team awarded to Las Vegas, you have an NFL team that’s ready to move to Las Vegas if they can find a stadium to play out of, you had a presidential debate in Las Vegas, and now you have a president of the United States who used to be a casino owner, and during the course of the campaign, the issue of casinos, and gambling, never came up.”

Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. (Getty)

If all that isn’t enough, Freeman sees the current Republican majority in Congress as an additional positive indicator: “We have a Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican president. Generally those folks believe in states’ rights, and empowering states to legislate as they see fit. If you believe in that, then you’re inclined to think PASPA is a failed law.”

On the other hand, according to a new Seton Hall Sports Poll from the Sharkey Institute at Seton Hall University, 43% of Americans surveyed think legalizing and regulating sports betting is a bad idea; 46% said they support it.

Freeman tells Yahoo Finance that 80% of Americans “see casino gambling as something that is an acceptable activity,” but that does not jibe so smoothly with almost half of those surveyed not supporting legalized betting. (And he was referencing No. 12 of this national survey by the Mellman Group, in which 57% of those surveyed said they believed casino gambling is acceptable for themselves and others, 30% said it’s acceptable for others, but not themselves.)

According to the survey, 13% of people who say they have never placed a bet say they would place a bet if it were legal. You might expect that figure to be higher, but Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall poll, chalks it up to the fact that only a sliver of people like to “admit to” their interest in gambling.

When you adjust the age range on the Seton Hall poll (which surveyed 626 adults across the country), the support for betting is higher among the young and the old: 67% of people age 18-29 support, and only 30% of those over age 60 oppose it. In the 45-59 age group, the majority does not support.

The AGA estimates that nearly $5 billion was bet on Super Bowl 51 this month, and says more than 95% of the bets were placed illegally, outside of Nevada.

The Super Bowl, NCAA March Madness basketball, and baseball’s Word Series, Freeman says, “are all great opportunities just to point out the demand that’s out there for Americans to bet on these sports, to be engaged, to want to be invested. Daily fantasy sports was a great opportunity. Frankly, I think that has been the most significant thing when it comes to raising attention to the demand consumers have to no longer be passive, but to be engaged in these games one way or another.”

Indeed, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit earlier this month, said he believes daily fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel (which are looking to merge this year) have stoked fan engagement in the sport. He called the companies “survivors.”

With NBA commissioner Adam Silver a strong public supporter of legalizing and regulating sports betting, and with the rise of daily fantasy, and with a Republican-majority Senate and House, and Trump in office, Freeman is confident that PASPA, a “failed law,” will get “dealt with” very soon.

“There is a perfect storm coming,” he reiterates, “and we’re happy to be leading that storm as best we can.”

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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