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AGA: ‘Question Whether Las Vegas Is Safe For The NFL Has Already Been Answered’

President and CEO Geoff Freeman Discusses Regulated Sports Betting

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It’s an exciting time for sports betting in America.

The American Gaming Association announced just weeks ago that NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern will be a featured speaker at the Global Gaming Expo 2016 (G2E) in Las Vegas on Thursday, Sept. 29. Stern’s talk with AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman will address the future of sports betting and its impact on major professional sports.

Stern’s appearance at the world’s largest casino-gaming conference shows just how much the efforts to regulate what the AGA says is a $150 billion market have materialized. Nearly all that amount comes through illegal channels. The NBA has been the most welcoming league toward the push to allow states to regulate sports betting.

Card Player had the chance to speak to Freeman about the state of his group’s plan to bring a sports betting bill to the next president’s desk.

Brian Pempus: You recently announced that David Stern will be speaking at G2E. What is the significance of his attendance for the overall strategy toward federal sports betting reform?

Geoff Freeman: About [two months ago] I had a great meeting in New York with Commissioner Silver where we talked about all things related to sports betting and the NBA’s interest. I’m pleased to see there’s a lot of common cause between the NBA and the gaming industry. I give Commissioner Silver a tremendous amount of credit leading the way here, being so outspoken about protecting the integrity of the game and giving more sunlight on people betting. His predecessor, Commissioner Stern, was there when [The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992] passed. He lived through that era…I think Commissioner Stern has seen that the goal is still the same: Let’s protect the game. The best way to protect the game is with greater transparency. It works out great to give him a forum to talk to the industry, to provide lessons to policymakers, the media and others, as someone who lived through a prohibition and what that accomplished and didn’t accomplish. We are very eager to worth with the NBA.

BP: What’s your opinion on New Jersey’s latest efforts for sports betting? How does this highlight a need for federal legislation?

GF: While we respect New Jersey’s efforts to go through the courts, I think we all expected that at some point this would have to go through Washington. Washington, in 1992, created a bad law, a law that has failed to curb illegal sports betting. In fact, it has created a black market. In the 25 years since that law was created, we have literally seen trillions of dollars spent on sports betting, all of it down underground, in an opaque marketplace, all of it done in a way that threatens the integrity of sports. Certainly, it funds other illegal activity. It’s time to take a fresh look here and figure out what is the best approach going forward. We think Nevada has proven that sports betting can be regulated effectively. Other states have proven, since 1992, that they can be effective regulators of gaming. And it’s time to take a more progressive and practical approach here, so we’re here to see Washington revisit this failed law. We will have an aggressive effort underway to help them do that, and we’re confident that in the coming years we will see this law repealed and states empowered to offer sports betting if they so chose.

BP: New Jersey is interested as you mentioned, and so is Pennsylvania. Which other states do you see at the forefront of this if there was a change to federal law?

GF: I think every state that has casino-style gaming at this point has to ask itself how do we empower the industry to modernize, attract new customers, and continue to deliver enormous tax results for our state. As they ask that question, of course one of the things they’ll look at is taxes and their regulatory environment, and they’ll have to look the games [currently] being provided and see if the industry is empowered to provide the customer with the games they seek. I would hope that just about every state is right there at the front leading the way on sports betting. Pennsylvania and New York have been asking the right questions, but there will be a host of other states right there on the cutting edge of this issue. It’s where they need to be if they want to see this industry deliver enormous results in their state.

BP: Has New Jersey exhausted its efforts in the courts and is it now really up to Washington?

GF: I can’t speak about New Jersey and their legal strategy. They might have other ideas, but we continue to believe that the way to address this issue is where the law was made. We’ve had a lot of conversations with folks and we know where this is trending. The alignment, this is what’s most important, between the gaming industry, the leagues, the players unions, the broadcasters, that alignment has never been greater. It’s that alignment that will help drive a favorable outcome.

BP: Given the sheer size of the illegal sports betting market in America, do you think the black market could largely be wiped out once the prohibition ends?

GF: I think we know, looking at the UK for example, that an effectively regulated sports betting market can eliminate the black market. There isn’t really a black market that exists in the UK. There is a thriving black market existing in the United States. We estimate that there’s about $150 billion wagered annually on sports. About three percent of that is done legally in Nevada. To get rid of the other 97 percent is going to take time. But this is what effective markets do. You don’t see illegal slot machines where effective regulation is taking place. You see that in markets like Texas where you don’t have effective regulation. I think the powers of regulation have been proven, and they have been proven on sports.

BP: With the gambling population aging and the fact that sports betting tends to appeal to younger demographics, thanks to the skill component, how integral is sports betting in the casino industry catering to a new generation of player?

GF: Every industry has to modify itself to meet the interests of changing customers. If anyone thinks the casino industry can thrive by providing yesterday’s product, by providing their image of what a casino once was, is sadly mistaken. The industry will have to be empowered to change, to provide customers with what they are looking for, whether that’s skill-based games, e-sports or sports wagering, it’s going to come in a host of different forms. Sports betting is by no means a silver bullet. It is one amenity that will help our industry remain competitive. Having the foresight to recognize what those other amenities are will enable the industry to do great things in the years ahead.

BP: Can you talk about the potential for the Raiders to move to Las Vegas? How does that tie in with all these efforts?

GF: I think that with the NHL soon calling Las Vegas home, the NFL actively considering putting a team in Las Vegas, it is simply further acknowledgment that we are in a different era when it comes to casino gaming. Casino gaming is no longer something that is off in a far away desert. It’s something that lives in our very communities. The NHL is acknowledging that, the NFL is acknowledging that, just about every NFL team is within an hour drive of a casino. We are pleased to see we are in a much different era in terms of recognition of the mainstream business that casino gaming is. Regardless of what happens with the Raiders, this has been a very important process for further mainstreaming the casino gaming industry.

BP: So it’s fair to say that if the Raiders don’t end up relocating to Las Vegas, it’s not going to be seen as a setback?

GF: Yeah, this discussion has already proven the mainstream nature of the industry. When teams relocate or don’t relocate, it’s complex. There are a lot of different issues at play. Whether Las Vegas is the issue, that question has already been answered. There are other issues, and that’s what the Raiders, Las Vegas and the NFL will have to work out. The question whether Las Vegas is safe for the NFL has already been answered. The question is answered in countless communities, whether it’s Philadelphia, Washington, Green Bay. It just proves that exciting days are ahead of us.