Casino Gambling

Sports betting could be coming to state near you

CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESSA Super Bowl 50 sign stands in a park overlooking San Francisco Wednesday. Billions will be bet -- most of it illegally -- on every aspect of the NFL Super Bowl game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
CHARLIE RIEDEL/ASSOCIATED PRESSA Super Bowl 50 sign stands in a park overlooking San Francisco Wednesday. Billions will be bet -- most of it illegally -- on every aspect of the NFL Super Bowl game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. AP

Sports betting is illegal in most states, including Mississippi, but that won't stop fans from betting on Super Bowl 50.

A record number of bets are expected to ride on the winner of the game, the longest field goal, the shortest, how long it will take Lady Gaga to sing the national anthem, Coldplay's first song in the halftime show -- even what color Gatorade will shower the winning coach.

American Gaming Association estimates $4.2 billion will be wagered in the U.S. on the matchup between the Denver Broncos and Carolina

Panthers, up 8 percent from a year ago.

The AGA expects $4.1 billion of that will be wagered illegally.

Why are so many law-abiding Americans putting down bets illegally?

It could be most don't consider casual office betting to be breaking the law and they don't agree with the The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which makes sports betting illegal in all but Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.

Repeal battle joined

With billions of dollars to be made and taxed, the battle being fought to repeal the federal law that prohibits sports betting now rivals the clash on the football field, and AGA is leading the offense by providing statistics and a voice.

A survey the AGA released last week shows 80 percent of Super Bowl viewers want changes to sports-betting laws, and 65 percent think states should decide whether to legalize sports betting.

Most surveyed said regulated sports betting will strengthen the integrity of games or have no impact on the outcome, and will generate tax revenue for local education and public safety.

Far more people than just the 17 million who attended an NFL game this season have bet on a game at some point, according to the phone survey by The Mellman Group.

"America's passion for football is rivaled only by its enthusiasm for sports betting," said Geoff Freeman, AGA president.

Until now, there hasn't been a concerted effort to get sports betting legalized and regulated, said Ohio University assistant professor Alan L. Silver, a casino expert.

Shady history

Sports betting goes back decades to organized crime and thrown sports contests. Eighty years later, there still are issues to be worked out, he said, but also a lot of possibilities for legal sports betting -- as evidenced by the success of racinos in Ohio.

"I think the wake-up call is the amount of illegal gaming that is going on in the United States," he said.

If the federal law is repealed and sports betting spreads to other states, he said, "Mississippi's going to take a harder look at that."

Could help Mississippi

Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, who chairs Mississippi's House Gaming Committee, last year assembled a task force to study the financial, legal and technical considerations of sports betting and Internet gambling.

"Sports betting would definitely help the industry here," he said at the time. He still thinks it could be a good bet down the road.

New Jersey has been in court fighting the ban on sports betting for years, claiming the national law discriminates by allowing sports betting in four states but not the others. If the court rules in favor of New Jersey, it could be a game changer.

"I think we need to be ready," Bennett said.

He doesn't know if sports betting would pass in Mississippi. "I'm hearing positive things right now," he said, but he also knows there are people who oppose all forms of gambling.

Saturation point reached?

With tight budgets and increased competition from neighboring states, every state is looking for revenue, said Jim Kilby, a former professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

He isn't sure expanding gambling is the answer. "We're probably near saturated," he said.

Sports betting is different, he said, and (betting) lines can be created for just about anything, such as whether a student would show up early or late for class.

The line for the Super Bowl is not about which team is best, he said, but about what team bettors think is best and will beat the point spread.

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