Ex-NBA Commissioner Says It’s Time For Legalized Sports Gambling

CREDIT: (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Former NBA commissioner David Stern addresses the media before the 2007 All-Star Game in Las Vegas.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made advocating for legalized sports gambling a priority since he assumed office last February, repeatedly calling for a reformed approach to a subject that has long been taboo for America’s biggest sports leagues.

He has a supporter in his former boss, ex-NBA commissioner David Stern, who said Wednesday morning that he agrees with his protege on the subject.

“I think I agree with Adam,” Stern said when asked about gambling in an interview on CNBC’s SquawkBox morning show. “Once daily fantasy became an acceptable exception to the law against gambling, I think that’s gambling, so now I think the best approach would be, as Adam Silver has advocated, is for there to be federal regulation. Bring the sports leagues in. If it’s going to happen, because it has happened anyway by Justice Department rulings and the like, you should make it legal and you should regulate it as tightly as you possibly can.”

Stern, once an opponent to legalized sports gambling, evolved in the later years of his time atop the NBA. The league launched its Las Vegas Summer League in 2004 and played its All-Star Game there three years later, and in a 2009 interview with Sports Illustrated, Stern said that the NBA had “morphed considerably in our corporate view” of gambling, though at the time, the league remained “against legalized gambling on pro sports,” according to a spokesperson.

The major sports leagues have long opposed legalized gambling because of the perceived risks it poses to the integrity of their games. Sports leagues have been rocked by gambling problems in the past, from game-fixing issues like the 1919 Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose’s gambling on games in Major League Baseball to point shaving and game-fixing issues in the NCAA and NFL. Stern’s NBA dealt with the most recent scandal, referee Tim Donaghy’s 2007 admission that he wagered on games, including those he worked.

Federal legislation currently bars sports gambling in all but four states, and all four major sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB — as well as the NCAA are currently opposing an effort to legalize sports gambling in New Jersey,

But in November, Silver called for a new approach to sports wagering, writing in the New York Times that “Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards. Without a comprehensive federal solution, state measures such as New Jersey’s recent initiative will be both unlawful and bad public policy.”

Silver added that technological advances could make it easier to regulate and monitor gambling to alleviate concerns about game-fixing and point shaving, especially in contrast to the “thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight” that exists now.

While it might be unlikely that reforming current gambling laws will be a priority for Congress any time soon, views on sports gambling have also shifted slightly as leagues and teams see the daily fantasy games Stern referenced as a new and potentially lucrative revenue source (despite Stern’s assertion, daily fantasy isn’t legally recognized as gambling. It has a legal exception from federal gambling laws as a “game of skill,” though it is closer to a form of wagering than leagues have gotten before).

The NBA signed a partnership agreement with daily fantasy web site FanDuel in November; the site already had sponsorship agreements with the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls. The Philadelphia 76ers became the first NBA team to sign an agreement with DraftKings, another daily fantasy site, in December. Daily fantasy has also stretched into the NFL, where Washington partners with FanDuel and the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have signed agreements with DraftKings, though the league itself has not joined yet.