It’s GAME Time: US Congress Moving On Sports Betting

Written By Martin Derbyshire on May 29, 2017 - Last Updated on February 15, 2019
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Congress has suddenly come up with a plan to deal with sports betting and online gambling in America. Frankly, its an idea that makes a whole lot of sense, and the timing is right.

Most of the laws dealing with gambling across the country have become a bit dated. This plan includes passing a comprehensive law as modern as the gambling industry itself.

The GAME Act

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a discussion draft of this comprehensive gaming bill, the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act, or GAME Act. Essentially, the act would:

  • Remove federal obstacles to legalized gambling at the state level
  • Repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that bans sports betting almost everywhere except Nevada
  • Formalize the states’ individual ability to legalize online gambling

The act would stop short of creating a federal framework for sports betting or online gambling. However, it would allow states that choose to legalize and regulate sports betting or online gambling to do so without fear the rug could be pulled out from underneath them at any time.

Online gambling’s current landscape

Yes, online gambling is already legal and regulated in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware. Yes, other states, including Pennsylvania, are currently considering similar legislation. However, these states are all operating inside what amounts to a gray area. In fact, the country’s budding online gambling industry is standing on some rather shaky ground.

The interpretation of federal law that led these states to enact online gaming legislation came back in December 2011. That’s when the United States Department of Justice released a legal opinion on The Interstate Wire Act of 1961. This interpretation concluded anything outside of sporting events falls outside the act’s reach.

The opinion was meant to clarify whether states could feel free to sell lottery tickets on the internet. However, states interested in online gambling as a new source of tax revenue took it and ran.

Now the online gaming industry is up and running in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s standing on top of a legal interpretation of a piece of legislation from 1961, long before the internet was even an idea. Plus, its living in fear the Feds could move in a different direction any day now, killing the golden goose.

Modernizing online gambling law

That’s what makes a piece of legislation like the GAME Act so critical. It would clarify the federal government’s position on online gambling now, instead of leaving it up to an interpretation of a half-century old act that could change any time. Essentially, it would put the states and the online gambling industry on solid footing.

Of course, it would also answer a $154 billion question.

That $154 billion is the amount the American Gaming Association estimates Americans bet on sports last year. The organization also estimates nearly all of that money is wagered illegally through bookies and offshore websites.

The question is: should state governments be able to legalize sports betting on get their hands on some of the tax dollars this potentially billion-dollar industry could generate?

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The answers is yes, the timing is now

The federal lawmakers behind the GAME Act seem to think the answer is yes, and the time is now, provided the states bring in laws with the right kind of consumer protections in place.

“Despite the federal gaming laws in place today, Americans are betting up to $400 billion a year on sporting events alone,” said New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.. a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one of those behind last week’s discussion draft on the bill. “It’s time to recognize that the laws are outdated, and the GAME Act will modernize them by increasing transparency, integrity, and consumer protections.”

The US needs to modernize the law to keep up with technology. Regulating and taxing a billion dollar industry involving something Americans are doing regardless. These are the kind of common sense ideas we should all be able to get behind, no matter what side of the aisle we’re on.

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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