While most eyes in Washington D. C. and across the country were focused on another hearing, the House Judiciary Committee held a meeting on Thursday focusing on the issue of sports betting. The discussion between the Representatives and individuals both for and against the regulation of sports betting by the individual states under intense scrutiny.

Democrats and Republicans Advocate for Federal Oversight

For those that may think that the move for federal regulation of sports betting is simply a Republican issue, both sides seem to be pushing for such action. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte, stated that “this issue is ripe for Congress’s consideration.” Along with fellow Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin (who chairs the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee), Goodlatte spelled out their areas of concern, including usage of the internet for sports betting and the possibility of “point shaving” to change the outcome of games (or at least the betting outcome).

It wasn’t just the Republicans chirping for federal oversight. New York Democrat Representative Jerry Nadler (who, in theory, would become the next chair of the House Judiciary Committee if the House switches hands in November), pushed for the outright oversight of sports betting to be a federal endeavor. “As more states enact laws to allow sports gambling within their borders and seek to establish standards and regulatory frameworks to govern how it may take place, Congress should examine these issues involving the integrity of gaming and consumer protection,” Nadler said.

Advocates, Opponents Express Their Thoughts

There were several advocates, mostly from the state of Nevada and its gaming industry, who thought that they should have a voice in the actions since they have regulations that have been in place the longest. “Nevada has a comprehensive regulatory structure that has been refined over decades and we have a lot of integrity in our process,” Becky Harris,  a former state senator and former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, stated in testimony to the committee. “I don’t think right now is the time for any federal engagement with regard to gambling.”

Another advocate from Nevada, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association Sara Slane, stated that a “light regulatory regime” was necessary for sports betting because of the influence of illegal offshore betting’s availability. “Sports betting is a low margin business, so in order for us to compete with the illegal market, there have to be…policies that enable us to offer competitive odds and drive traffic to our legal, regulated sites.”

Slane and Harris were also in agreement regarding a suggestion from the professional sports leagues. The contentions from the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and others that they should be paid “integrity fees” – an extra tax on bets that go to the professional sports organizations themselves – would basically keep sports books from being able to turn a profit and, in some cases, force the customers into the illegal market.

The opponents could only come up with the argument of “what about the children?” Jon Bruning, from the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) that was founded by anti-online gaming advocate and Las Vegas Sands Corporation chairman and owner Sheldon Adelson, stated that “it will be up to you to protect states that don’t authorize sports betting” while citing a story from the United Kingdom where a 13-year old took his father’s credit card and racked up a $140,000 bill. He also stated that online gaming is “more difficult to police” (despite the fact that several states seem to do it without issue) and that the Wire Act should be updated to include making sports betting illegal.

Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing

The hearing was just that – a hearing – and nothing was decided on Thursday in the House. With both Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (who will be resigning at the end of this Congress) and New York Senator Chuck Schumer advocating for a rebirth of some form of federal regulation in the Senate, the responses by some of the members in the House indicates that people who enjoy sports betting and, perhaps at extension, online casinos and poker have to remain diligent in defense of these freedoms.

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