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Long-time friendship helped attorney break into sports law

A childhood friendship that continued through college helped attorney Robert Caldwell break into sports law.

On the surface, it might not appear to be a major field of law in Nevada. The state isn’t home to a professional major league sports franchise.

Caldwell, however, has turned the practice into a key part of his job with the Las Vegas law firm Kolesar &Leatham, where he is primarily a litigation specialist.

“Nevada is looked to for guidance with sports-related legal issues more so than any other state because of our history with fighting sports,” Caldwell said of the state’s long affiliation with boxing and most recently, mixed martial arts. “Many management contracts have legal clauses that are selected from Nevada law.”

Caldwell, 38, initially became associated with sports law through his friendship with NFL placekicker Rob Bironas, who also grew up in Louisville, Ky. Bironas just completed his ninth season with the Tennessee Titans and has become one of the league’s most accurate kickers. Before landing with the Titans, he bounced around with minor league teams for several years before landing an NFL contract.

Caldwell said he assisted Bironas with legal issues although he didn’t serve as his agent.

“I was comfortable he would do better on the agent side, using someone with deeper connections,” Caldwell said. “I just wanted to help him anyway I could.”

A few years later, an attorney Caldwell met through the American Bar Association became an in-house counsel for the Los Angeles Angels. That association led to some legal work on behalf of the Major League Baseball franchise, as well as picking up additional legal assignments with Cincinnati Reds and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Caldwell also handles legal work for former mixed martial arts heavyweight champion Eric Prindle.

Caldwell is Nevada’s only member of the Union Internationale des Avocats (the International Association of Lawyers) and he serves on the organization’s sports law committee. At the group’s annual Congress in Dresden, Germany, in 2012, Caldwell delivered a keynote address, discussing issues relating to match fixing and other sports frauds. He also discussed Nevada’s regulation of sports gaming.

At the organization’s 2013 meeting in Macau, Caldwell led a panel discussion on the challenges representing gaming companies in litigation.

“Having someone from Nevada on the commission is interesting because there is a lot of interest in what we do out here,” Caldwell said.

Question: How is European sports wagering viewed as compared with Nevada and the United States?

Answer: There is a stark difference between us and foreign jurisdictions. Most major leagues ban advertisements of gaming-related products, or it’s restricted on what they can do. A couple of stadiums are around where you see the Powerball jackpot advertised on the outfield wall.

If you look at Europe, (online gaming giant) bwin.party is primary kit (uniform) sponsor for Real Madrid and was a primary jersey sponsor for the referee’s union. You look at any league here, that is never going to happen.

Question: What about recent sponsorship deals between bwin.party (which is operating online gaming in New Jersey with Boyd Gaming Corp.) and the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers and the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils?

Answer: It will be interesting to see how that plays out. Each league has a different tolerance level for gaming and what they will allow.

Question: What were some of the key points you made in your address in 2012 about sports wagering in Nevada?

Answer: When sports gaming is legalized and regulated properly, sports gaming can be an incredibly positive thing on the honesty of the game. A number of betting scandals have taken place in the U.S., but it was the Las Vegas connection that broke open those cases. We have the advantage here when we see a statistical anomaly in the in the way the line moves or if we see unusual betting practices, such as a lot of money being put down on a game between the seventh and 12th place teams in some odd conference. We know something is wrong.

Question: How do you view the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s recently announced a partnership with the International Olympic Committee to ensure the integrity of the Games?

Answer: Nevada certainly provides valuable assistance and guidance to the International Olympic Committee’s fight to prevent betting-related cheating at the Sochi Olympics. Our sports books and gaming regulators have played key roles in investigating and reporting suspicious betting activities to federal authorities, leading to the prosecution of several individuals involved with match-fixing, point-shaving and other frauds in sporting events.

Question: Is sports law an area you had hoped to practice?

Answer: My focus on litigation as always something I wanted to do, although I wish I could do a larger percentage of my practice in sports law. Without more sports teams located here, there is really a limited amount of work you can do in the sports law arena.

Question: What are some of goals in working with an athlete?

Answer: Athletes operate themselves as a business and they need to protect their assets. They need to make sure they have a good team around them so they can market themselves both on and off the field. Not everyone is a first-round draft pick and that’s where an athlete needs to find a good agent who can spend the extra time and connections in order to get their client an opportunity to be seen.

I handle the nonagent-type tasks, such as setting up charitable foundations. Athletes need to stay active and in people’s minds, such as through Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Sponsors want to know how many people are following them. Oftentimes an athlete has a very bad contract that was signed with management before that athlete became successful. Those contracts don’t often make sense anymore. I look for ways to maximize their potential.

Question: What’s important to you outside of the law office?

Answer: I work as a soccer referee for youth games with the U.S. Soccer Federation in Las Vegas. We worked to bring a youth soccer team from Germany here to play in the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup this spring.

Our firm’s pro bono efforts are also important. We work with the Children’s Advocacy Program to provide free legal representation to kids who have been abused or neglected. It’s up to us to make sure the kids have a say in their court proceedings.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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