APNewsBreak: Feds eye move to regulate legal sports betting

Sports book at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The federal government would regulate sports betting nationwide under a bill to be introduced Wednesday.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told The Associated Press he and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah will introduce the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018.

The bill would have the U.S. Justice Department set minimum standards states must meet in order to offer sports betting, but denies the sports leagues the so-called “integrity fees” they have been seeking in new legislation, essentially a cut of sport betting revenue.

It is a Congressional reaction to New Jersey’s victory in a U.S. Supreme Court case in May that cleared the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting.

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“As a lifelong sports fan I treasure the purity of the game,” Schumer said. After the Supreme Court ruling, “I knew that Congress had an obligation to ensure that the integrity of the games we love was never compromised. That is why I believe the time is now to establish a strong national integrity standard for sports betting that will protect consumers and the games themselves from corruption.”

Hatch said that once the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May, “I began working with stakeholders to ensure we were doing everything possible to protect the integrity of sports from corruption. The legislation we’ve introduced today is the culmination of eight months of high-level meetings, discussions, and negotiations, and will serve as a placeholder for the next Congress, should they decide to continue working to address these issues.”

The eight states that already offer sports betting could still offer it while the Justice Department evaluates their laws.

So far, state legislatures in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have legalized sports betting. And although New Mexico has not passed a sports betting law, the Santa Ana Star Casino & Hotel started taking sports bets in October through a tribal gambling compact. City lawmakers in Washington also voted to legalize sports betting in the District of Columbia on Tuesday, legislation that requires Congressional approval but would make the nation’s capital the first U.S. jurisdiction without casinos to authorize sports books.

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Several states have already pre-filed sports betting bills for early 2019, including Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia, and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, which tracks sports betting legislation, predicts 30 states will consider legislation in the new year.

The bill would not provide so-called “integrity fee” payments to the leagues, essentially a cut of revenue made from sports gambling, but would require that sports wagering operators use data provided or licensed by the leagues.

New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in May clearing the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting. But that has set up a patchwork playing field of laws and rules that differ from state to state.

Leagues including the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL have called for one uniform set of rules nationwide.

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While Hatch is retiring from the Senate soon, the measure is intended to show bipartisan support for national regulation of sports betting.

The bill would allow betting on the Olympics and college sports, but would ban it on other amateur sports.

It also would establish a nationwide self-exclusion list that people with gambling problems can add their names to in order to prohibit sports betting providers from allowing them to bet, similar to state lists that casinos maintain.

It remains to be seen whether the bill has enough support in the incoming Congress to be enacted. Three months before it was introduced, the casino industry’s main trade association came out against federal regulation of sports betting. The American Gaming Association issued a statement saying that maintaining the integrity of competition and protecting customers “can best be achieved through law enforcement oversight and robust state regulation,” adding “additional federal engagement is not warranted at this time.”

But Schumer said he will push hard for the bill, noting that its bipartisan origins (a progressive New York Democrat and a conservative Utah Republican sponsored it) indicate it is something that has support from both parties.

“No bet is ever a guaranteed win, but it’s a smart bet that I will strongly advocate for this bill to move forward and that Congress will vote to pass federal legislation very soon,” Schumer said.