A year and a day after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that forever changed the landscape of sports wagering in the United States, a group of industry representatives will gather in Boston to try to do what some say is impossible.
The U.S. Sports Betting Forum has scheduled its inaugural meeting Wednesday to begin the process of debating sports wagering policies to coordinate industry standards and best practices across the nation.
Former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairwoman Becky Harris, now an academic sports betting fellow with the International Center for Gaming Regulation at UNLV, is coordinating what she hopes will be the first of many gatherings of stakeholders from around the country to discuss numerous issues associated with sports betting that began as a result of the Supreme Court overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on May 14, 2018.
Since that day, it’s been a nonstop series of jubilation, consternation, optimism, pessimism, debate and enactment of legislation that has led to seven states following Nevada in offering legalized sports betting. Two more states are on the verge of joining the list with legislation either signed into law or awaiting a governor’s signature. Others are in various stages of approval.
Different rules in each state
But with each state approval comes different rules and regulations overseeing betting. Only Nevada has multiple decades of experience and data on sports betting, which is one of the reasons UNLV took up the challenge of bringing people together to talk about it.
“It’s a collection of sports-betting stakeholders coming together in a neutral forum to have conversations around issues of common concern, issues around best practices, and things they can do in insuring the integrity of the games,” Harris said in explaining the role of the U.S. Sports Betting Forum.
UNLV distributed a call to meet and it was decided that the best opportunity to maximize attendance was to hold it in conjunction with a gathering already attended by industry professionals, the International Casino Exposition North America.
London-based Clarion Gaming, organizers of the International Casino Exposition (ICE) last year announced it would stage its first-ever ICE North America in Boston, opting for the East Coast over Las Vegas for the first three-day show that opens Monday.
Harris said organizers offered a three-hour block for the Sports Betting Forum on Wednesday morning and they happily took it.
When the forum opens, Harris is expecting regulators from states that have sports wagering as well as representatives from states that yet to have it; sportsbook operators; iGaming operators; equipment manufacturers; academics; representatives from sports leagues; and other individuals with an interest in the sports-betting industry.
Wednesday’s agenda includes presentations by George Rover of the Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association and a session led by the International Center for Gaming Regulation. Harris is hopeful that a group discussion on topics for future meetings could result in another meeting, possibly in the fall, to begin drilling down into various issues that confront the industry.
“Integrity is a challenge because my experience has been that there have been a variety of integrity issues out there,” she said. “The issues with regard to the placing of bets and wagers, those integrity issues have been worked out over decades in Nevada, so that’s not really a particular challenge. But there are a lot of other areas in integrity that can certainly be discussed between the various stakeholders.”
Contentious issue: Paying for data
Among the most contentious of issues may be decisions on whether sports leagues should be entitled to a share of revenue for providing data and information to sportsbooks. Sportsbooks notoriously have among the lowest profit margins in the casino so any sliver of revenue going to leagues would likely receive pushback — which is why some leagues are going to state legislators to mandate it.
Some are even looking to federal legislation to require payments.
The various policies and regulations of different states also will likely generate discussion.
Some states offer storefront retail locations; others are going with strictly online wagering; some offer both options.
Some states will allow wagering at stadium and arena venues; others won’t.
States also have widely varying tax rates, further cutting into sportsbook profits.
They’re all issues worthy of discussion, Harris said.
She also said participants may discuss the structure of the forum for future meetings. For example, should each sports team be represented or should a league speak for all? Should individual sportsbooks participate or should there be an association speaking on behalf of all of them? How about manufacturers? A representative of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers plans to attend Wednesday, but should individual companies be allowed to participate?
There’s also the question of the sensitivity of gambling issues among sports leagues. Harris says it’s essential that leagues participate in the discussion, but leagues and teams have been publicly bashed in the past for their stances on gambling issues.
Will it succeed?
It’s too early to determine whether the forum will be a success, an industry observer who has been involved in sports wagering research says.
“I think that the group being grounded in a non-commercial context definitely helps to bring more people to the table,” said Chris Grove, managing director of sports and emerging verticals for Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a research company.
“But at the end of the day, you’re still going to have to deal with the fact that these people often have different agendas and different strategies and tactics and you still have to find a way to generate some kind of consensus out of that chaos,” he said. “I don’t know that coming from the academic perspective will make that part easier, but it definitely broadens the tent.”
Grove said it’s important that Harris try to get all the stakeholders on the same page.
“I think that it’s necessary to make the attempt to have this kind of an organization, no matter how optimistic or pessimistic you might be about its chances,” he said. “The stakes are simply too high in terms of what policymakers, lawmakers and regulators could get wrong about sports betting.”
Hoping for some ‘Aha!’ moments
Becky Harris, an academic sports betting fellow with the International Center for Gaming Regulation at UNLV, hopes gathering stakeholders involved in sports wagering will provide new perspectives and understanding by all participants:
“The challenge to this point has been there’s not been a forum that has been created that you will ideally have participation from a variety of different stakeholders within the sports-betting industry, and you want to get people together so they can collaborate, so they can have those ‘Aha!’ moments and they say, ‘Oh, I realize that that’s the challenge that you’re facing. This is how I perceive that challenge, let’s figure it out,’ so the hope really is that there will be a lot of cross-conversations around these issues.
“I don’t know that it’s possible to have 100 percent buy-in from every stakeholder, but certainly having conversations to begin to better understand the challenges that each stakeholder has is productive, and over time, after having an opportunity to hear out each other, perhaps at least understanding can be created and hopefully that will be the platform on which we can begin to build some consensus around how we best solve these challenges.”