Sports betting has been around about as long as professional sports have been played. Encompassing everything from March Madness brackets, fantasy leagues, NFL survivor pools and Super Bowl squares, sports gambling is a billion dollar industry. According to Forbes, the total value of underground sports betting ranges from $150 billion to as much as $400 billion. The only problem: it is illegal in most states.
In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law that prohibited states from authorizing sports betting and placed the responsibility of legalizing it on each state’s government. Since then, it has been legalized in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi and Rhode Island, while New York approved it on a conditional basis (only four casinos upstate allow betting). However, the creation of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) in 2018 has produced an entirely new avenue for sports gambling to take place.
The AAF is the brainchild of Charlie Ebersol, former Indianapolis Colts general manager, and Bill Polian, a former National Football League (NFL) executive, in hopes of creating a new branch of the NFL. The most significant deviation from the NFL model is the incorporation of legal sports gambling becoming an integral aspect of the league. The addition of sports betting as an integral aspect of the AAF was used primarily as a means of creating interest in the new league. The AAF has signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), a company and casino in Las Vegas, that allows MGM to create a sports betting app on the AAF.
This app would allow participants to place bets on not only whether a team will win or lose, but also on whether the next drive will score a touchdown, who the next player to score will be and other aspects of the game. Along with the MGM app, the AAF plans to outfit players with wearable tracking devices that will collect “second-generation statistics” that will be used to generate odds and more ways to gamble based on in-game statistics. Betting on second-generation statistics include data such as a player’s speed on the field, the speed of the ball, the angle of a throw and more. This data will also be analyzed to produce odds such as a quarterback’s odds of throwing an interception based on their previous thow data such as tge speed of the ball, the angle of throw, etc. This new technology, all accessible through the MGM app, provide many new ways for people to place bets during football games.
For this reason, the creation of the AAF has sparked controversy and revived the debate on whether sports betting should be legal in all states. The MGM app is currently only allowed in New Jersey and Nevada, but MGM and the AAF hope to grow their audience in the coming years as more states legalize sports betting. This has been met with some backlash, as some people fear that the legalization of sports betting for all sports could encourage gamblers to try to influence the outcome of a game and encourage athletes to bet on games in which they compete, creating a conflict of interest and risk the possibility of athletes intentionally throwing games or otherwise impacting how they play. However, others argue that with professional athletes already making over seven figures a year, it is less likely that they will agree to throw a game for a few thousand extra. Since college athletes are not paid, there is a higher chance of decreased integrity, but the legalization will allow sports betting to be properly regulated and provide a transparency that makes it easier for authorities to identify and investigate suspicious betting activities. The United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia have legalized sports betting and have ensured that the practice be regulated and monitored closely, while it is in the U.S. that players have been accused of point shaving and referees have admitted to manipulating the point spread through their calls. The creation of the AAF allows the NFL to survey if legal sports betting can be properly regulated and monitored, and functions as a step toward professional leagues supporting gambling on their games.
Some organizations such as the National Basketball Association (NBA) have already voiced their support for legalizing sports betting. In a public statement from 2015, former NBA commissioner David Stern said, “let’s go all the way and have betting on sports. It’s okay. It’s going to be properly regulated…that gives a way for states to make more money, for leagues to be compensated for their intellectual property and for the federal government to take [away] illegally bet money and put it through the federal coffers.” Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote a column for The New York Times in 2014 in which he said, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”
Following the Super Bowl — the biggest event of the year in sports gambling in the United States — and the recent premiere of the AAF, the discussion on the legality of sports betting is very popular. With so many people already participating in underground sports betting and more professional sports organizations attempting to find ways to incorporate it into their business models, it is hard to imagine that sports betting will stay underground for much longer. As someone who just won $275 on this last Super Bowl, I watch with interest how state governments will choose to move forward with this method of gambling.