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MLS commissioner on sports gambling: 'I don't think we can stop it'

In December, the U.S. Supreme Court will finally hear the case of Christie vs NCAA, better known simply as the New Jersey sports betting case. New Jersey and Governor Chris Christie seek to legalize sports betting in the state.

The case (among many other factors, such as the rise of daily fantasy sports) has brought the issue of sports gambling in America back to the fore, and the American Gaming Association has also turned up its lobbying heat. The parties in favor of legalizing sports betting are generally optimistic that President Trump is on their side.

PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, outlawed betting on pro or amateur sports at the federal level, except in Nevada and with the exceptions of Jai Alai and parimutuel dog or horse racing. These days, PASPA is the target villain of the gaming industry.

The four biggest American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL), and the NCAA, all oppose New Jersey’s efforts. They have argued that it would violate PASPA.

Major League Soccer is not among them.

Speaking at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Wednesday, MLS Commissioner Don Garber explained why he supports a form of legalized sports betting. His argument was about the nature of soccer internationally, but also about the inevitability of gambling.

“It’s going to happen, we might as well be in front of it”

“Gambling on games, betting on games, is part of the DNA of football around the world. Go to a game in Chelsea or in Stamford Bridge, somebody’s coming to your seat or in your box with a tout sheet, and you can place a bet,” Garber said. “I am a big proponent that it’s going to happen, we might as well be in front of it. I think there are great values to our tax revenues to be able to do that, I don’t think we can stop it, so maybe we’d even lead the charge.”

Garber also said that because of the small size of the MLS, and its shorter history (22 seasons) relative to the other leagues, his league could actually pave the way in supporting a change to sports betting law.

“One of the only values of being the youngest major league here, and sometimes being under the radar… is I think it gives us the opportunity to push the envelope on a number of different things,” Garber said. “I do believe that we could lead this effort, because I don’t know that everybody will see soccer as having the same challenges that perhaps would exist if the NFL was going to come out in support of it.”

In March, speaking at South By Southwest, Garber said he had joined NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (who came out in support of legalized, federally regulated sports betting in a 2014 New York Times op-ed) and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (who told Yahoo Finance in February that MLB is “reexamining our stance on gambling”) in a “project going on now to really dig in deeply and understand” sports betting. Garber said that he personally felt, “it’s time to bring it out of the dark ages.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit.

NHL commish: “Laws should be complied with”

Garber’s comments to Yahoo Finance contrasted with the comments made by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at the same event just an hour earlier.

Asked about sports betting, Bettman said, “I’m agnostic to it. I don’t think it helps, I don’t think it hurts. I do think laws should be complied with, so I’m hoping the Supreme Court affirms PASPA in terms of the New Jersey litigation.”

SCOTUS hears the New Jersey case on Dec. 4.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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