U.S. Sports Leagues Take Kinder, Gentler Approach In Lobbying For Sports Betting

October 13, 2022
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When sports wagering began to expand across the United States four years ago, the nation’s major sports leagues became notorious for their aggressive lobbying tactics to shape the market in their own image, but times are changing.

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When sports wagering began to expand across the United States four years ago, the nation’s major sports leagues became notorious for their aggressive lobbying tactics to shape the market in their own image, but times are changing.

With 31 states now taking live bets, the low-hanging fruit has been picked and the leagues are seeking to align casinos and other stakeholders to persuade remaining states to enter the sports gambling market.

“What’s different now is that we’re all sitting here together, having this conversation because we’re all working so collaboratively,” said Jonathan Nabavi, vice president of public policy and government affairs for the National Football League (NFL).

“Our standards look a lot like some of the things you guys are doing. We’re all going to work collaboratively to make sure that we create this sustainable marketplace and not just race to get everything open as quickly and as quietly as possible.”

As for the bad old days when casinos and sports leagues clashed bitterly over royalties or integrity fees, Nabavi said: “I know there was some acrimony five years ago, but I’m so pleased by the way things are progressing.”

Nabavi and Leo Villalobos, the sports betting and compliance counsel of Major League Baseball (MLB), spoke to casino officials on Wednesday (October 12) during the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Venetian Expo in Las Vegas.

Villalobos said the leagues have shifted to a more coalition-based approach in lobbying for sports betting.

“I see more diverse stakeholders trying to come together at the beginning of the legalization effort to see if there’s something every stakeholder can agree on and get behind and push to the legislature,” Villalobos said.

The NFL and the American Gaming Association (AGA) once butted heads on sports betting, but they have joined forces to lobby Congress to crack down on illegal offshore gambling operations, which Nabavi described as “a hugely challenging problem.”

“We’ll certainly put our lobbying horsepower behind those efforts,” he said.

“Ultimately, I think there [is] going to need to be more federal enforcement of these issues.”

Villalobos said MLB also is participating in the effort to stamp out illegal gambling operators.

“That’s one of the reasons we offered measured support for the mobile efforts in California,” he said.

Villalobos was referring to Proposition 27, an apparently doomed effort to legalize online sports betting in the Golden State.

MLB was the only one of four major sports leagues to back the online sports-betting measure, which will be on the California ballot on November 8.

Nabavi also emphasized the importance of the relationship between the NFL and the National Council on Problem Gambling, which received a $6m grant, its highest ever, from the NFL in October 2021.

The NFL is limiting gambling advertisements on televised games to one ad per quarter.

As the sports-betting market evolves in the United States, gambling regulators in the United Kingdom have become an invaluable resource in preventing problems, according to Nabavi.

“When you’re talking to people with experience, it’s always helpful … . It really crystallizes things,” he said.

Before last Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, NFL officials met with British gambling regulators at Whitehall.

Although jersey logos for players are not yet a prominent issue in the U.S., they are “top of mind” in the UK, Nabavi said.

As a result of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated in March between players and MLB, Villalobos said players will be allowed to put patches and decals with corporate logos on their jerseys and helmets in 2023.

However, patches and decals promoting sports-betting operators will not be allowed.

On the other hand, MLB players will be allowed to sign endorsement contracts with sports-betting operators.

“I personally think it will be nice if those deals result in some sort of RG (responsible gambling) focus instead of just having a player sponsor a sportsbook,” Villalobos said.

MLB players are not allowed to bet on baseball games but can wager on games in other sports.

“It’s always hard to strike a balance,” Villalobos said.

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