Donald Trump And Legalized Sports Betting

Before his foray into politics, Donald Trump was a prominent business man. Amongst his holdings were several casinos, both in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He now holds the highest office in the United States, and as such, many in the gambling industry are hopeful that the archaic sports betting laws in the US are going to finally get the facelift they need. But what are Donald Trump's thoughts on sports betting and can we count on a change?

PASPA, the federal ban on sports betting in America, has been in play for 25 years, and in that time has completely failed as a law. It has not prevented sports betting like it sought to do. Instead, it has pushed the roughly hundred billion dollar industry into overseas businesses, preventing states and the federal government from profiting off of it at all.

Donald Trump first addressed legal sports betting in 1993, while New Jersey was first trying to legalize sports betting. In an interview with John Kosich, Trump said that many in the state were in favor of legal sports betting and that “you have to be…it’s vital to keeping taxes low…and it’s vital to putting the bookies out of business.”

In November 2015, Donald Trump appeared on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Cowherd asked him about his stance on sports betting and Trump basically echoed his 1993 statements in his usual blunt manner. “I’m OK with it because it’s happening anyway.” When asked about the federal ban PASPA, he replied “Whether you have it [PASPA] or you don’t have it, you have [sports gambling].’’

This conversation took place early on in the presidential race, while Trump was still a GOP candidate. But it sparked the first glimmer of hope for those proponents of legalized sports betting. His ideas that legalized sports betting would keep taxes low would appeal to state politicians, while “putting the bookies out of business” would help assuage any fear that legal sports betting would create an atmosphere of crime or corruption.

What Trump Has Said About Sports Betting Since Becoming President?

Right before Super Bowl 51, President Trump sat down with Jim Gray, of Westwood One Radio. Gray, interested in Trump’s views on the matter as a former casino owner, dove right in and asked what the President’s stance was on legalizing sports betting.

“Well, what I’d do is I’d sit down with the commissioners. I would be talking to them, and we’ll see how they feel about it. Some would not want it, and probably others — and I’ve read others maybe do. But I would certainly want to get their input and get the input from the various leagues, and we’ll see how they feel about it. So, we wouldn’t do it lightly.”

So Where Exactly Do The Leagues Stand On This?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver opened a can of worms when he penned his op-ed piece for the NY Times in 2014. Since then, several professional commissioners have thrown in their support, at least for the reexamination of the law if not for the all-out legalization of sports betting. To date, four commissioners of professional American sports have come out in favor of a discussion about regulating sports betting.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred first opened the lines of communication in 2016, after he stated that the “landscape is changing.” Most recently, at the 2017 Yahoo All Markets Summit, he went on record stating that “From the perspective of our sport, we are reexamining our stance on gambling…I think [NBA] Commissioner [Adam] Silver has probably framed it the best. Betting can be a form of fan engagement, it can fuel the popularity of a sport. We all understand that.”

MLS Commissioner Don Garber threw in his support at the 2017 SXSW conference, stating that he is “Very open to understanding how to get more engaged” with sports betting.

PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan says “there’s a lot of opportunity there,” in regards to regulating the market and that he will have “an open mind toward it” as the issue further progresses.

The NFL, NHL, and NCAA still remain staunchly against legalizing sports betting. But with so many people coming out with a more open approach to the topic, it’s leading experts to wonder if these organizations are purposefully keeping themselves in the dark ages. Commissioner Manfred said it best:

“Sports betting happens. Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So I think the question for sports is really, are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition. Or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?”

Trump has insisted that he will be working very closely with the Commissioners of professional sports in order to reach a conclusion on this issue, and with more commissioners opening their minds to the potential piggy bank they’re sitting on, it will be interesting to see what consensus is reached. A Florida-based sports litigator predicts that sports betting will be addressed during Trump’s first term in office, and many experts agree. With so much changing in the sports world, the biggest question seems to be: Will Trump be the president to take sports gambling out of the dark and potentially change the market forever?

Trump’s response, or non-response as it should more aptly be labeled, was typical of a Washington Politician. Polite, but vague. Despite the ambiguous response, however, many believe that now that the issue is on his radar, he’ll soon begin to address it.

Geoff Freeman, CEO and president of the American Gaming Association, is especially hopeful, stating “I think we have everything coming together to support a regulated [sports betting] environment.” If anything, it does show that Trump is aware there is an issue with the laws that are currently in place and that sports betting definitely needs to be addressed.

So Where Does Trump's Cabinet Stand On This?

When looking at Trump’s cabinet and those closest to him, we have to start with his own Vice President, Mike Pence. Pence’s voting records have shown him to be a harsh opponent of legalized gambling. This aligns completely with traditionally conservative viewpoints.

Aside from Pence, however, many members of the Trump's administration have played this hand close to the vest, without revealing how they actually feel on the matter. The Republican Party has always been an opponent of gambling. But they've also traditionally stood up for individualized states rights.

Steve Ruddock puts it perfectly when he says “The Republican Party is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue. On the one hand, they don’t like gambling, and on the other they don’t like the federal government telling the states what to do. They would rather simply not deal with it, as opposed to voting one way or the other.”

Trump’s Cabinet members haven’t said anything on the matter, and more than likely won’t make their opinions known until the issue is brought to the forefront and they are forced to take a position. For now, though, the biggest question is where Noel Francisco, Trump’s nominee for Solicitor General, stands on the issue. As Solicitor General, Francisco has a chance to turn the state of sports betting in the US on its head.

Francisco has been instructed to prepare a brief to present to the Supreme Court, regarding New Jersey’s appeal that PASPA is unlawful. Francisco could report that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was right in their decision, or he could choose to open the door for the New Jersey appeal.

Something interesting to note about Francisco’s nomination – Francisco clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Ted Olson, the lawyer fighting the case for New Jersey, is using a former Scalia opinion in his fight. Francisco is also reported to be close friends with Ted Cruz, another huge proponent of state’s right. For now, it’s a game of wait and see when it comes to the Trump administration’s opinion on the matter.

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