Architect of PASPA fight: Share sports-betting data to keep games fair

Architect of PASPA fight: Share sports-betting data to keep games fair

  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
April 17, 2019 4:05 AM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

States with sports betting must share information about sizable wagers to guarantee the integrity of games, says a leader of the campaign to legalize sports books beyond Nevada.

“That’s one thing that hasn’t happened yet but needs to happen,” said former New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who championed the state’s bills to legalize Internet gambling and filed the original lawsuit to overturn the federal ban on nationwide sports betting.

In an interview with CDC Gaming Reports, he compared multistate monitoring of sports bets to regulations against insider trading in financial markets. Just as suspicious trades can signal violations on Wall Street, a series of large bets on a long-shot could indicate some sort of fix.

“Illegal acts are discovered by unusual investing patterns,” Lesniak said. “There’s plenty of software around you can tie it in to raise red flags when a huge amount comes in on a certain game. That’s how these fixes are detected.”

The longtime Democratic state senator and author of a just-released book about the history of his fight to legalize sports betting throughout the country will participate in a panel discussion at next week’s Betting on Sports America conference at Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. The gathering, from April 23-25, is billed as the country’s largest dedicated sports betting conference exhibition, with 175 industry speakers, 40 sessions, and 60 exhibitors. It is sponsored by SBC (Sports Betting Community), headquartered in London.

Lesniak, who served in the New Jersey Senate for 25 years after 15 years in the state Assembly, will be one of five panelists at an April 25 discussion on “New Jersey: Land of Opportunity.”

The American Gaming Association has estimated that illegal sports betting amounts to $150 billion a year. Ensuring that all wagering remains above board is the best way to protect the integrity of sports, Lesniak said.

“States have to have uniform agreements to share the information. The operators can do it themselves, but government has to step in and make sure.”

In November, several gaming companies announced plans for a Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association, or SWIMA. George Rover, formerly with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, was chosen as its chief integrity officer. SWIMA, scheduled to begin operations this year, is modeled on ESSA, a European nonprofit that monitors sports betting to prevent fraud.

Companies involved with SWIMA include MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, William Hill US, DraftKings, FanDuel, bet365, 888 Holdings, and Hard Rock International. The nonprofit association intends to partner with state and tribal gaming regulators, law enforcement and others to discourage illegalities related to sports-betting.

Lesniak said sports betting and online gambling have been saviors for New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks.

“Casino gambling and horse racing are not a young person’s sport anymore. But sports betting is,” he said. “It’s gone through the roof, as I expected. New Jersey and the Northeast (are) a hotbed of gambling.”

A fan of snow skiing, Lesniak said that industry was dying in his area about 12 years ago, but Generation X snowboarders revived it.

“I equated sports betting as an opportunity to save Atlantic City casinos and racetracks, and it certainly has.”

Lesniak said the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 federal legislation sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, also a Democrat, had a “noble intent” of stopping a proliferation of sports betting that could have threatened the integrity of sports.

“But that went out the window when Internet gambling came on board” and people could bet anywhere, Lesniak said. “There’s absolutely no reason for any state to not legalize sports betting. I’m just surprised more haven’t done it sooner.”

Lesniak recounts the history of his anti-PASPA campaign in book “Beating the Odds:  The Epic Battle that Brought Legal Sports Betting Across America.” He said his fight started after a friend was arrested while placing bets for himself and some friends with a bookie about a dozen years ago. Police had the betting ring under surveillance, and Lesniak’s friend – Rudy Garcia, a former mayor and legislator – was suspected of being a runner for the operation.

Authorities eventually dropped the charges against Garcia, but Lesniak said the arrest inspired him to fight for legalized sports betting across the country. “It was unfair that (Garcia) could have gotten on a plane, flown to Las Vegas, and done it legally.”

Mark Gruetze is a veteran journalist from suburban Pittsburgh who covers casino gaming issues and personalities.