Sports gambling a South by Southwest topic? Yep…

February 15, 2017 4:00 AM
  • Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming Reports
February 15, 2017 4:00 AM
  • Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming Reports

There’s music, art, theater and … sports gambling?

Yes, the biggest topic on the American Gaming Association’s agenda has crossed over into the mainstream now, and here’s the evidence: the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals, an annual gathering focused on the major entertainment issues of our country, has booked a session to talk about the future of betting on sports.

The session is part of the SXSW sports track, and is set for March 11.

As you probably know, the AGA has been campaigning from all angles for casino sports betting, asking the government to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a 1992 federal law that prohibits all but four states from authorizing sports gambling. The AGA is also preaching the ills of illegal sports betting and sharing views from the top leaders of major sports, who acknowledge that gambling creates more interest in their product. (Which means more viewers, which means more revenue, which means happier owners.)

So sports attorney Daniel Wallach worked with the AGA on a pitch to include a discussion of sports betting as part of SXSW, and the organization agreed.

“The issue has really gone mainstream within the past year. Major media companies are writing about sports gambling on a fairly regular basis, the Supreme Court may finally review PASPA, and even President Trump has weighed in on the issue,” Wallach said. (Trump told Westwood One radio’s Jim Gray in a pre-Super Bowl interview that he would review the matter.)

“The theme of our panel is how the professional sports league have evolved in their views on sports gambling and may be inching closer to accepting a regulated environment. We’ll examine how this could impact the U.S. sports industry, the games themselves, and how the leagues and other stakeholders are preparing for the inevitable.

“It’s a coup to land at South by Southwest.”

Wallach said the session is an indication of how important the issue is outside of gambling industry circles. Tulane University sports law expert Gabe Feldman, ESPN’s Andrew Brandt, and the AGA’s Sara Rayme are also on the panel, which follows a talk by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber.

Brandt, a former vice president for the Green Bay Packers who is now a business analyst for ESPN, says sports gambling is a perfect fit for SXSW.

“They have the reputation of offering what it edgy and what’s ahead, and this is certainly something that’s ahead,” he said.

Brandt has followed the leagues’ position on sports gambling, and notices that it has shifted.

“Sports gambling has been characterized as this adherence to ‘integrity of the game’  … back to Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson,” he said. “And I think to an extent that’s still there but you see this softening stance and I think a lot of it comes from the fantasy angle and the sort of general acceptance of gambling in our society.

“I think the way all these leagues embraced daily fantasy was astounding to me because, again, what it is, to me, is gambling.”

Meanwhile, NFL teams have inconsistent relationships with gambling, he notes.

“They’re very anti-casino, yet the Lions have a deal with MGM, and when I was with the Packers the hotel the players stayed at was the Oneida Casino resort, and they were one of the major sponsors for the Packers.”

Wallach added it’s not an accident that the discussion is part of a group that includes e-sports and wearable technology. “It’s one of the most important topics affecting the sports industry,” Wallach said.

Wallach said the momentum for sports betting is picking up heavily.

“And there’s momentum building from many different fronts,” he noted. “The leagues are signaling a readiness to embrace sports betting, Congress may revisit PASPA within the next couple of years,  the Supreme Court could weigh in this year, and a number of states are introducing ‘stand-by’ measures in the event that PASPA is repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court. We are entering a dynamic period.”