American Gaming Association makes play to overturn federal ban on sports betting

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association AP File

This year is the 25th anniversary of the federal law that prohibits sports betting in almost every state, yet 50 million Americans bet on Super Bowl LI this year, according to the American Gaming Association, almost all of them illegally.

This is also the best chance to end the federal ban, said AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman on Monday when he announced the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition. The group of law enforcement officers, elected officials and casino industry leaders will work together to fight the federal ban fueling what the AGA estimates to be a $150 million illegal sports betting market.

“I have every confidence we will succeed in getting this done,” he said. The AGA is speaking with members in both houses of Congress, he said, and he is optimistic congressional hearings will happen later this fall to look at the ineffectiveness of PAPSA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Nearly six in 10 Americans are in favor of lifting this federal ban, a recent survey shows, and that number increases to 72 percent approval by avid sports fans. He said new data shows legalizing sports betting could support up to 152,000 jobs, create $26 billion in economic output and generate $5 billion a year in tax revenue for states and local communities.

The coalition will work to educate lawmakers about the negative impact of illegal gambling and the need to align the law with public support. The group also will push to repeal the federal sports betting ban and let states decide, empower law enforcement to monitor and track illegal betting and deliver a safe, legal and transparent environment to “take sports betting out of the shadows,” he said.

Freeman cited President Donald Trump, a former casino owner, saying people should be in favor of sports betting, since it’s vital to keeping taxes low and putting bookies out of business.

Freeman came to Biloxi in 2015 to announce the AGA was launching a fight to curb illegal gambling. Ed Davis, former Boston Police Commissioner and a member of AGA’s Illegal Gambling Advisory Board, said the federal law against sports betting is looked on as a joke.

He’s worked on cases involving organized crime, including the Whitey Bulger case. Davis said he saw how organized crime networks use money gained illegally from sports betting to finance their other illegal activities.

“This is a very serious problem we need to talk about in the United States,” he said.