The legal sports betting market in the United States has seen an industry boom since the Supreme Court struck down PASPA in May 2019. Earlier this month, Oregon became the 12th state to offer legal, regulated sports betting. A number of additional states have legislation pending and are likely to offer sports betting within the next year.
Facing the rapid growth of a market that they have historically been adversarial to, the NCAA has been searching for best approach scenarios related to the industry. It seems that the approach they have opted for is to advocate for federal legislation to provide rules and oversight for an industry that currently exists as a patch-work of states with varying regulations.
The NCAA's attempt to champion federal sports betting regulations have been picked up by two prominent senators from opposite sides of the Isle. ESPN reported that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have began collaborating on a draft of new sports betting legislation to be introduced at the federal level, although no word has been given as to when it would be made available.
On the surface, legal regulation of sports betting on a federal level sounds very appealing, particularly to those who live in a state that does not offer the ability to bet on sports. At the same time, you have to remember that this is legislation being pushed by the NCAA, who has always been opposed to betting on collegiate sports. You have to wonder why an organization opposed to the sports betting industry would be interested in promoting this type of legislation.
The answer comes in the form of what the NCAA likes to refer to as carve-outs, which is a nicer way of saying a prohibition on college sports bets, although everything else is still fair game. There are a lot of questions about how a federal prohibition on college sports betting would impact existing state laws that allow it, and any attempt to block bets on these games would face significant legal challenges. In spite of this, it is likely that this approach is what the NCAA considers their best approach to dealing with an explosion of legal sports betting options across the country, and would explain their sudden “positive” demeanor on the subject.
"We are absolutely supportive of federal regulation," NCAA vice president of hearing operations Naima Stevenson Starks, a point person on sports betting, told ESPN. "It's fairly daunting to think that every state would have a different set of regulations. Having some minimum standards, we are very supportive of and have been an active proponent of.
The rapid proliferation of sports betting across the United States has made it difficult for the NCAA to maintain it's preference for a ban on college sports betting. Not only are more states legalizing sports betting, but the legislation can vary dramatically from one state to the next. Some states allow mobile wagering, while others do not. Some states allow for betting on any sports, while others, such as New Jersey, do not allow betting on college teams located within the state (sorry New Jersey, no bets on Rutgers or Seton Hall, New Jersey).
The NCAA has taken the position that having federal laws to provide a framework for all states to follow would bring a sense of order and consistency to the sports betting industry. That is a valid point and one that must be considered, but you have to also consider what ulterior motives may be involved when an athletic association begins pushing gambling legislation. The NCAA views a best case scenario as having a “carve-out” in the federal framework that takes college sports betting away from the states that currently offer it.
"Certainly, if there were the ability to have some kind of carve-out on college athletics altogether, that would be something that I know most would be supportive of," Starks said.
The bill introduced by Schumer and Romney is expected to be similar to the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act. This bill was introduced last December by Schumer and now-retired Senator Orrin Hatch. That bill failed to gain momentum and was no passed, but a new approach by Schumer and Romney could breathe new life into the effort. There is no timeline given for the introduction of the new legislation, and until an official draft is released we will not know if the federal government will side with the NCAA and implement some level of prohibition when it comes to betting on college sports events.
Until then, the NCAA has increased awareness programs for referees and student-athletes, as part of an effort to educate them on the impact of sports betting on college sports. Athletes have received updated educational materials on the topic, and referees have access to videos that provide instructions on how to best deal with various sports betting scenarios.
For the rest of us, all we can do is watch and wait. Federal legislation could make the market more consistent and open additional opportunities in states that do not currently allow sports betting, but it could also result in restrictions on what you are allowed to bet on.