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Sports Leagues Against Gambling Online Write Letter to Congress

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Casino Gambling Web has obtained a letter sent to congress on July 30 signed by the NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and other major American sports groups. The letter is lengthy and states the concerns those leagues have with the possible legalization of gambling online. It has also come to light that at least the NFL is working along side of Focus on the Family and other religious conservatives in this crusade. FoF also sent out a letter on July 30th, coincidentally?

The following is the transcript of the sports organizations' letter.

Dear Member of Congress:

Sports betting is incompatible with preserving the integrity of American athletics. For many decades, we have actively enforced strong policies against sports betting. And the law on this point is consistent. Federal statutes bar sports betting, especially the 1961 Wire Act and the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Enforcement of these laws against sports betting was also a significant motive for enacting the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA).

Accordingly, we urge you to reject current proposals to legalize Internet gambling, such as H.R. 2046 sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank. This legislation reverses federal policy on sports betting and would for the first time give such gambling Congressional consent. The bill sends exactly the wrong message to the public about sports gambling and threatens to undermine the integrity of American sports.

On a related point, we believe the Congress should not consider any liberalization of Internet gambling until the U.S. Trade Representative successfully resolves our trade disputes in this area. A rush to judgment on this subject could result in irreversible damage to U.S. sovereignty in the area of gambling regulation, including the capacity to prohibit sports bets.

Though Internet gambling on sports has never been legal, easy access to offshore Internet gambling websites has created the opposite impression among the general public, particularly before Congress enacted UIGEA last fall. UIGEA emerged from more than a decade of Congressional consideration, in which stand-alone legislation aimed at restricting Internet gambling passed either the Senate or the House in each of five successive Congresses, each time by overwhelming bi-partisan votes. UIGEA also enjoyed a broad array of supporters, including 49 state Attorneys General and other law enforcement associations, several major financial institutions and technology companies, dozens of religious and family organizations, and of course our sports organizations.

Enactment of UIGEA was grounded on concerns about addictive, compulsive, and underage Internet gambling, unlawful sports betting, potential criminal activity, and the wholesale evasion of federal and state laws. When it passed the House a year ago, the vote was 317-93, including majorities of both caucuses and with the affirmative votes of both party leaders.

The final product was a law that did not change the legality of any gambling activity – it simply gave law enforcement new, effective tools for enforcing existing state and federal gambling laws. UIGEA and its predecessor bills could attract such consensus because they adhered to this principle: whether you think gambling liberalization is a bad idea or a good one, the policy judgments of State legislatures and Congress must be respected, not de facto repealed by deliberate evasion of the law by offshore entities via the Internet.

By contrast, H.R. 2046 would put the Treasury Department in charge of issuing licenses to Internet gambling operators, who would then be immunized from prosecution or liability under any Federal or State law that prohibits what the Frank bill permits. The bill would tear apart the fabric of American gambling regulation. By overriding in one stroke dozens of Federal and State gambling laws, this would amount to the greatest expansion of legalized gambling ever enacted.

This legislation contains an “opt-out” that appears to permit individual leagues to prohibit gambling on their sports. But regardless of the “opt-out,” the bill breaks terrible new ground, because Congress would for the first time sanction sports betting. That is reason enough to oppose it. In addition, the bill’s safeguard opt-out for sports leagues as well as the one for states may well prove illusory and ineffectual. They will be subject to legal challenge before U.S. courts and the World Trade Organization.

In addition, this legislation would dramatically complicate current trade negotiations concerning gambling. In 1994, the United States signed the General Agreement on Trade in Services, which included a commitment to free trade in “other recreational services.” In subsequent WTO proceedings, the United States has claimed this commitment never included gambling services. The United States has noted that any such “commitment” would contradict a host of federal and state laws that regulate and restrict gambling. The WTO has not accepted this argument.

Accordingly, the U.S. Trade Representative has initiated negotiations to withdraw gambling from U.S. GATS commitments. Before withdrawal can be finalized, agreement must be reached on trade concessions with interested trading partners. Few concessions should be required because there was never a legal market in Internet gambling in the U.S. If Congress creates a legal market before withdrawal is complete, the withdrawal will become much more complicated and costly. Therefore, we oppose any legislation that would imperil the withdrawal process.

Finally, we have heard the argument that Internet gambling can actually protect the integrity of sports because of the alleged capacity to monitor gambling patterns more closely in a legalized environment. This argument is generally asserted by those who would profit from legalized gambling and the same point was raised in 1992 when PASPA was enacted. Congress dismissed it then and should dismiss it now. The harms caused by government endorsement of sports betting far exceed the alleged benefits.

H.R. 2046 sets aside decades of federal precedent to legalize sports betting and exposes American gambling laws to continuing jeopardy in the WTO. We strongly urge that you oppose it. Thank you for considering our views on this matter.


Rick Buchanan, Executive VP and General Counsel
National Basketball Association

Elsa Kircher Cole, General Counsel
National Collegiate Athletic Association

William Daly, Deputy Commissioner
National Hockey League

Tom Ostertag, Senior VP and General Counsel
Major League Baseball

Jeffrey Pash, Executive VP and General Counsel
National Football League

There is no way that these leagues can prevent gambling on their respective sports as it is not illegal in many other countries to wager on an American sporting event. The only thing the UIGEA does is prevent legitimate companies from providing this service in a controlled manner, and gives local street bookies the ability to grow their illegal business.

The integrity of their respective sport is not diminished by gambling, in fact, a good case can be made that gambling on sports is the reason for its popularity.

With sports leagues having the ability through the IGREA as proposed, to restrict their sport from Internet gambling, the leagues have no basis for their argument.

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