It is shocking when someone in Washington, D.C. admits that gambling might be ok, but when one of most prominent politicians in the United States wants to discuss matters, people just might listen. Last Thursday, Senator John McCain (R – Ariz.) was on ESPN’s Capital Games podcast to talk about the NFL and said that he wants Congress to talk about legalizing sports betting on a wider scale.
Talking by phone with ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC’s Rick Klein, Senator McCain said that he is open to expanded live sports betting, though he is unsure about internet gambling. “I think that there [are] places for sports gambling in states, where gambling is legal,” he said. “One of the problems I see with internet gaming is the ability to distort the playing field so that it can be harmful to individuals and lead to corruption in the sport. We obviously know that there are huge amounts gambled on sporting events, particularly football.”
“I have no problem with gambling wherever it is legal…but I have concern about the possibility of corruption in some forms of gaming that lend itself to that,” he added.
But regardless of his concerns (or maybe because of his concerns), Senator McCain believes that sports betting needs air time on Capitol Hill. “We need a debate in Congress. We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue so we can build consensus,” he explained.
He then talked about wanting protective measures implemented for gamblers, presumably if online gambling is expanded. He gave an example of the possibility of online players colluding in poker, though his example was a bit rambling and unclear. The point was, though, and nobody will dispute him on this, that proper measures must be taken to protect gamblers from those who want to take advantage of them.
The hosts of the podcast also asked McCain about whether or not it is ok that Nevada is the only state allowed to have legalized sports betting (three other states – Montana, Oregon, and Delaware – can, as well, but Nevada is only state with any sort of significant sports betting industry). McCain replied, “I think you’ve got an excellent point, and that’s why it’s an excellent issue.”
While Senator McCain may be the most prominent person to suggest that sports betting should be legalized on the federal level, he is not the first person with stature to do so. In November 2014, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, saying that sports betting should most definitely be legalized nationwide:
There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events. Mainstream media outlets regularly publish sports betting lines and point spreads. Voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly voiced their support for legal sports betting in a 2011 referendum. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey recently signed a bill authorizing sports betting at local casinos and horse racetracks, a law the N.B.A. and other leagues have opposed — and a federal court has blocked — because it violates Paspa.
Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.
In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.