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Senate Judiciary Committee debates college betting legality


The US Senate Committee on the judiciary heard evidence both for and against the continued legality of betting on college sports in a committee meeting titled “Protecting the Integrity of College Athletics”. 

Heather Lyke, athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh spoke on behalf of the University and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

“The ACC opposes gambling on collegiate sports,” Lyke said, adding that the decision was supported unanimously by its university presidents and supported by athletic directors.

“While we understand that gambling on professional sports is here to stay, we urge Congress to directly address gambling on intercollegiate athletics and prohibit it, as was the case in PASPA.

“The introduction of legal wagering on intercollegiate athletics will have a corrosive and detrimental impact on student-athletes and the general student body alike. Gambling creates pressures and temptations that should not exist.”

Lyke said a major reason for her opposition to legal betting was integrity concerns.

“Students may be susceptible to corruption and other abuses by gambling interests who will seek to utilize students as sources of information before placing wagers,” she said. “Even if the NCAA, the conferences and the universities themselves provide education and enact rules to prohibit student athletes and athletics staff from gambling, the wide-spread corrosive effects cannot be contained. 

“Unlike professional teams with limited team sizes, strong security staff and robust budgets, universities will struggle to police student-athletes, athletic staff and the student body, boosters and alumni.”

Lyke added that prop bets in particular were a major source of concern.

However, Bill Miller, president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association (AGA) said collegiate betting would occur whether it is legal or not and allowing it to be regulated is the most effective way to prevent integrity issues.

“We realize some stakeholders remain concerned about bets being placed on collegiate events – based primarily on the presumption that unpaid, amateur athletes are more at risk of being corrupted by those seeking to influence the outcome of sporting competitions,” Miller said.

“While that may indeed be the case, it is also perhaps the most compelling reason to apply strict regulatory oversight and that only comes from the legal market.”

“Research by the AGA and others has conclusively proven Americans have a longstanding and widespread interest in wagering on sports and will seek channels to place bets – regardless of their legality. That is the underlying reason for the failure of PASPA’s prohibition approach. Rather than preventing sports betting in the U.S., PASPA instead enabled a massive illegal sports betting market that the AGA estimated to be in excess of $150 billion dollars annually.

“Though certainly not what Congress intended, this failed policy inadvertently provided a near monopoly to illegal gambling operations that fuel other criminal activity.”

The AGA chief executive added that it is legal operators who are best-positioned to recognise match-fixing.

“Our industry takes sports integrity very seriously, deploying innovative technologies and other resources available to track legal wagering activity and identify suspicious activities,” MIller said. “Analyzing data from legal wagers leads to identifying potentially irregular betting patterns that can uncover match fixing. In fact, the vast majority of sports betting scandals over the past 40 years were uncovered either directly by or with the assistance of legal sports betting operators in Nevada.”

Miller also cited research published by the AGA earlier this week, which highlighted the level of confusion most American bettors have in regards to legal betting options.

“We have done recent research around consumer behaviour and 55% of people who bet illegally believe that they’re betting on legal sites when in fact they are betting on illegal sites,” Miller said. “These sites are as easy to get to as legal sites.” 

Committee chair Lindsay Graham, expressed his reservations over the idea of prop bets on college games in particular, but Miller said this would only occur if the sportsbook was confident the bet could not be fixed. 

“Sportsbooks would only put a line on something that they believe is not subject to manipulation,” he said.

In September 2019, a member of iGB North America learned that US Senator for Utah and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney was involved in preliminary discussions about a federal sports gambling bill.

Romney is working with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York on a bill that is expected to be similar to the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act and has support from the NCAA, suggesting the bill may include a ban on collegiate wagers.

Miller said any such federal legislation would not be necessary as state-level regulations already go far enough in protecting players and sporting integrity.

“The AGA believes any entity offering sports betting should be subjected to the same level of rigorous licensing programs and regulatory oversight with which current commercial and tribal
casino operators must comply,” Miller said.