NBA Commissioner Adam Silver shook up the professional sports world back in 2014 when he came out in favor of legal, regulated sports betting on his sport – but at the federal level.
Four years later, his league and others saw their lawsuit against New Jersey’s effort to offer Las Vegas-style sports betting turn into a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for all 50 states to offer such betting – state by state.
In other words, half a loaf.
So with full year one of the new era just about wrapped up, what does Silver think of that half? He answered during a 38-minute interview Wednesday with New York City radio host Mike Francesa on WFAN.
“On balance, it’s good for us,” Silver said of the eight states currently offering legal sports betting. “We’re better off having legalized sports betting where we do have access to data, where it can be regulated, where if there is aberrational behavior, just like with the stock market – if there is something going on in NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange, flags go up and they investigate.
“And we have had discussions with them. It’s the same thing with legalized sports betting. If there’s an unusual amount of action in a particular game – and increasingly a lot of the betting comes in play while the game is going on – if somebody who typically doesn’t bet, or if there is an unusual amount of money, the computer spits it out right away and we start investigating.
“That’s as opposed to the system that is in place now, where it’s virtually all underground – it’s probably still happening, but there’s no transparency for the league. So we have no idea what’s happening.”
Still, only half a loaf
Of course, the current system still isn’t what Silver sought.
“It’s a hodgepodge of regulations [by states], and frankly it in some ways has imposed a bit of a burden on us because it’s not a consistent set of regulations.”
“We’ve learned a lot from European soccer, because essentially it’s always been legal there, as it obviously has been in Las Vegas in the U.S.,” Silver added. “We’re adopting a lot of the same systems they have in place, where they have relationships with a lot of the betting companies. When inappropriate activity is happening in real time, it’s supplied to the league, and it causes them in some cases to switch out referees or umpires or whatever else. Sometimes it causes them to go into locker rooms and talk to players. Sometimes it causes them to do an investigation.”
Silver was asked how much of an economic impact legal sports betting – as it spreads across the U.S. – will have on the league.
“I think it’s going to be – from a direct revenue standpoint – smaller impact than some people think,” Silver said. “Meaning, to the extent that we sell official data to sports betting organizations or receive some sort of royalty for intellectual property, it will be significant – but not all that important to our business. I think where the real impact will come is through additional engagement.”
An estimated 60 mm “March Madness” men’s college basketball brackets were filled out this spring, Silver said (and that estimate appears to be low).
“And we all know, if you fill out a bracket, you’re in it, in a way that you’re not [otherwise],” Silver added. “Even if the bracket is a five-dollar bet or just a gentleman’s bet or whatever else, you care a lot more when you have skin in the game.”
‘Integrity fee’ takes a holiday
Silver recently spoke at Seton Hall University and – contrary to what seemed to be a new narrative by the league – used the year-old phrase “integrity fee” more than a dozen times. On Wednesday, Silver got with the new program.
“I don’t want to run from the fact that we think a fee should come to the NBA,” Silver said. “We will spend roughly $8 billion this year in creating this product. And in return for that, it is our view that for the very intellectual property that is being used for people to bet, that we should receive some sort of royalty for that.”
Finally, host Francesa expressed his belief that because other forms of gambling in the U.S. such as horse racing are not overseen federally, the same will continue to be the case for sports betting.
“I think [that], too,” Silver said. “And I recognize that I am a realist here. I’m not sure how high up it is on anyone’s list in Congress for promoting national sports betting [regulations].”
(Note to NBA fans in particular: There’s lots more in this interview, including Silver’s thoughts on a possible European-style midseason tournament and a play-in round for teams just outside the top 16 playoff slots.]