That’s because legalized gambling for much of that time was also limited to Nevada, and, until fairly recently, no jurisdiction saw the need to rock the boat on sports betting, which is federally banned in all but four states (Delaware, Oregon and Montana being the other exceptions). But, as we all know, things have changed for the worse in New Jersey’s gaming market the past few years and Gov. Chris Christie, to his credit, has been open to adding sports betting to the list of products on offer at the state’s racetracks and casinos.
His first attempt, a licensing program for legal sports betting in the state which was enacted following a successful non-binding referendum on the issue in 2012, was shot down by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Why and how that ruling became inoperative in the meantime is something that is way above my head, but the perceived need to open the door to sports bettors at track and casinos in a state whose gaming capital has lost over $2 billion in revenue since 2006 is no mystery.
In Nevada, sports betting generated just over $200 million in 2013, or 3 percent of total revenue. But there are, as the American Gaming Association reminds us, a number of ancillary benefits that accrue to casinos with sports books and good arguments for legal sports betting in general. Legal sports wagering helps bring more than 30 million visitors to Nevada each year; more than $2.5 billion is illegally wagered annually on March Madness each year, per the FBI, while only $80 million to $90 million is wagered on the tournament legally in Nevada’s 216 sports books; and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority estimates that the 2012 Super Bowl weekend produced $106.2 million in non-gaming economic impact and attracted 310,000 visitors.
Some other things are happening in the broader world that point to the potential power of sports betting, which not coincidentally happens to have a hold on a demographic that is perpetually under-represented in modern American casinos: young men. Betting on fantasy sports games, under the guise of “entry fees,” which is legal in all but five states, has boomed in the U.S. Fantasy sports enjoyed a carve-out from the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in 2006, but that was when season-long competitions were the product. FanDuel, a leading fantasy sports site, plans to pay out $400 million in prizes this year, or 40 times more than it paid out in 2011, and the emphasis is now on weekly and daily games.
Anyone 18 and over can play and there is some serious wagering going on. Per the Associated Press, “on the USA Today Sports Media Group site FantasyScore.com, there was an opening in August for a game played against only one other contestant, with a $5,200 entry fee and a $10,000 cash prize. The FanNation site that Sports Illustrated runs was also offering a contest where players could wager up to $500 on three players they thought might be in for a hot night on the baseball diamond.
“‘If you are a betting individual, you can choose to lay a little money on the line and come away from your Throwdown with a tidy profit,’ the website promises.”
The Internet is changing the game and there are potential downsides. In The Hunt for the Match Fixers Bringing Down Soccer, author Brett Forrest estimates that about $1 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) is bet on soccer each year. He told interviewer Doug Miles on the latter’s Sports Talk show this summer, “Once you understand the figures involved you see why the manipulation of matches would be attractive to organized crime.”
Places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia have some of the most active sports betting markets in the entire world and the black market is possibly the largest component. Of course, the potential for fraud is what animates the major sports leagues every time the question of casino-based sports betting comes up. And, as we have seen with soccer, it is a legitimate discussion point. But so is the enforced exclusion of land-based casinos from a market that could help them at a crucial time while other forms of sports wagering proliferate.