Gaming Industry Pushing Back On Prop Bet Restrictions

May 9, 2024
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Gaming industry leaders maintained this week that limiting or prohibiting proposition bets on college athletes or professional athletes could bolster the illegal market in the U.S.
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Gaming industry leaders maintained this week that limiting or prohibiting proposition bets on college athletes or professional athletes could bolster the illegal market in the U.S.

The banning of proposition bets was arguably the most talked-about issue at the SBC Summit North America following recent professional and collegiate player scandals and increased attention from the NCAA and NBA at potentially limiting the types of permitted wagers on individual athletes.

“This is such an important topic, and I think the steps that we as an industry, our regulators, our lawmakers, and our league partners take on this will determine whether we will be successful in looking after our industry and looking after our players,” said BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt on Wednesday (May 8). “If we are so naïve to believe that the under is not available in the illegal market, then we are misguided.”

“I’m comfortable that the best way to make transparent all of the activity in and around the game, and frankly the only way to ensure integrity long term, is best achieved by regulated sports betting [with] strong partnership between ourselves, teams, leagues, lawmakers, and regulators," Greenblatt said. 

David Rebuck, the recently retired director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, also pushed back on potential prop bets bans, arguing that simply banning the bets without taking further steps would not have the desired effect.

He said three points of consideration when considering a ban would be what steps would be taken to educate the public why the bets are harmful, what type of enforcement mechanisms would be put in place to ensure the bets are not being offered in the state, and what potential treatment options would be made available for those who continue to make those bets and are driven to illegal markets.

“If you have nothing, nothing, and nothing, then you just stuck your head in the sand hoping that this will never happen because now you feel good because you banned it,” Rebuck said.

“If you want to ban something, how are you going to enforce it, how are you going to educate people, and how are you going to reduce the risk of people performing in ways that you believe are either harmful to them or harmful to others,” he added, referring to instances such as harassment or threats made against participants or other sport integrity concerns.

“It’s not going to just go away because it’s banned,” Rebuck said. “It begs the question that you have to weigh what you’re trying to do in a way that you accomplish the goals you want to without creating a new problem that you just can’t enforce, and you hurt people in ways because they don’t listen to you and what you think they should do.”

Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow and director of strategic initiatives for the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said such a prohibition could become the latest in a long line of policies with good intent that ultimately backfired. 

“I'm sitting there listening to this and I'm thinking of any number of proposed regulatory responses to problems in the industry, and any number of them are unbelievably well intended and were total failures and they ended up in fact creating the opposite effect," Feldman said. "Instead of improving the situation, they made it worse.

"One of the ways to make this worse is to drive it underground, because the moment you do, you no longer have any visibility on who’s doing what."

Feldman said that although he has concerns about proposition bets, he believes there could be compromises within the industry to limit the onus on specifically named individuals.

“We see up on the board the name of a 19-year-old college student as a bet we can make, there’s something a bit disquieting about that,” he said. “But just trying to eliminate it as if it’s going to go away, that’s just not going to happen. 

The NCAA has been vocal in recent months in its calls for states to prohibit proposition bets on individual collegiate athletes, and Mark Hicks, managing director of the NCAA, said that limiting the prop bets and stamping out the illegal market does not have to be mutually exclusive events.

"I also fully get that there is a risk that some of these bets now go to an unregulated market, so I get that, and it is something we talk a lot about," Hicks said. "We’re really bothered by the unregulated market, we’re going to continue to implore federal authorities and others to do their role, but it doesn’t have to be one or the other."

“If the industry, and the operators, want to help us with harassment and deal with that, then maybe there are things that they can do, we’re not going to turn them down.”

Even within the NCAA’s member conferences, however, there remains some unease regarding the prop bet prohibitions.

“My concern is let’s not push it underground and how do we make sure to keep things above board because that’s where we’re able to regulate it, where we’re able to discern if there are problems,” said Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “Because we’re above board, we have means to figure it out.”

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