CHARLOTTE, NC (Katherine Peralta/Charlotte Observer) - In the roughly six months since the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports gambling, a handful of states have sprung to action to legalize the practice, from New Jersey to Mississippi.
In North Carolina, home to three major-league sports teams, the issue hasn’t gotten much attention lately. But experts say that in the coming months that could change, as they expect legalized sports betting to become a bigger part of the conversation locally.
When the Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports betting, it effectively gave states the green light to legalize the practice, and it opened the door to a potentially major revenue windfall for sports leagues.
That decision also drew interest from David Tepper, a billionaire hedge fund manager who was unanimously approved as the next owner of the Carolina Panthers by NFL owners just over a week later in Atlanta.
Since becoming owner, Tepper has brought up sports betting several times. In his first press conference as team owner in July, he suggested that given trends in other states, legalization locally may be coming, and that pro teams could benefit from it.
“You think about the fans and you want to keep the fans in the building. Eventually it’s going to hit North and South Carolina. It has to, from a revenue standpoint. You have issues with paying teachers and other things down here, and tax revenue, so it’s inevitable,” Tepper said at the time.
The practice is legal in other pockets throughout the U.S., including Las Vegas, where the NFL’s Raiders are relocating from Oakland.
‘Let’s make it transparent’
By legalizing sports betting, states could tap into a new revenue source to support areas such as infrastructure, law enforcement and teacher pay, like Tepper mentioned, according to Bill Squadron, a professor of sport management at Elon University.
But legalized sports betting could also help increase engagement in sports, as fans could be more likely to tune into or attend a game if they have money riding on it.
“It’s going to be a hugely impactful new revenue source throughout the sports industry,” Squadron said.
That’s why the Miami Dolphins have been not-so-quietly pushing for the legalization of sports gambling in Florida. According to a recent Bloomberg story, a business entity affiliated with the Dolphins joined several operators of horse and greyhound tracks, as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in spending money to block a ballot initiative that would give voters power to reject any expansion of casino gambling.
Ahead of Election Day, the Dolphins tweeted out an image encouraging voters to reject Amendment 3, which, the team said “would effectively block any chance for legal sports betting in Florida.” The amendment passed, and the Dolphins deleted the tweet.
The NFL’s annual revenue could rise by $2.3 billion a year as sports gambling becomes legalized nationwide, according to a recent report from Nielsen and the American Gaming Association. The study found that the bulk of that will come in the form of media rights, with the rest benefiting sponsorship, merchandise and ticket sales.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been vocal in his support for legalizing sports betting.
“We know there’s an enormous amount of illegal sports betting in the United States. Estimates go up to $400 billion a year for all sports. So my feeling is let’s make it transparent. Let’s regulate it,” Silver said in a radio interview with ESPN in April.
In late July, Silver announced that the league had agreed to make MGM Resorts “the official gaming partner” or the NBA and WNBA. The deal made the NBA the first major U.S. sports league to strike a sponsorship deal with a sportsbook operator.
About a month later, a committee of NFL owners approved a measure that gives teams the right to sell sponsorships to casinos that operate sportsbooks, according to SportsBusiness Daily.
The Dallas Cowboys became the first NFL team to partner with a casino a few days later when owner Jerry Jones announced a sponsorship deal with WinStar World Casino and Resort. The resort’s about an hour away from the Cowboys’ practice facility in Oklahoma, which recently introduced a bill to legalize sports betting.
Sports betting is already common among fans, albeit not always legally, as Silver noted. According to a recent study from East Carolina University, more Americans think sports betting should be legal than not.
Of course, there’s plenty of opposition to the practice, including concerns over gambling addiction. The NCAA has said it’s opposed to sports gambling, although in July, the association, citing “the integrity of competitions and the well-being of student-athletes,” said it is examining its long-term impact on college sports.
In the Carolinas
Legislative leaders in the Carolinas say they could address sports betting legalization soon.
N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said it’s too early to say how the state will handle it.