It’s Time to Legalize Sports Betting

Sports Betting

There is a tendency to use euphemisms when talking about gambling. Being in the business for nearly fifty years, I have seen almost everything, but lately some have been trying to say some activities are not gambling when they clearly are. I like to call a spade a spade. I will dissect a couple of myths about gambling below.

Daily Fantasy Sports IS Gambling

DFS Is Gambling

The first myth is Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is not gambling. Let me start by saying it is gambling, and in reality there is about as much skill involved as there is in a lottery. When nine things have to line up just right for you to win, it’s no different than a parlay or lottery.

You can study all you want and call it skill if that makes regulators and the major sports leagues feel better, but it is still gambling. And if DFS is going to be legalized, then all sports betting should legal.

I’m going to come right out and say it: The time has come to legalize sports betting.

If skill is going to be the standard by which you legalize an activity, I can confidently state that when sports betting is done properly, it has more skill than DFS. An article from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) called “Should Sports Gambling Be Legal?” begins with the following lines that capture the essence of the debate:

“Few things are as American as laying down a few dollars on a football game. But oddly enough, sports gambling is illegal in all but four states—Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.”

Why is that?

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act


In 1992 the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), also known as the “Bradley Act,” was passed which outlawed sports betting nationwide with a few exceptions for the licensed sports books in Nevada and the sports lotteries conducted in Oregon, Delaware and Montana. Congress provided one year from the act’s effective date of January 1, 1993 for states which operated licensed casino gaming for the previous ten years to pass laws permitting sports wagering.

In the February 2013 the New Yorker ran a piece called “A Call to Action” by James Surowiecki about New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting. He starts the article by stating the obvious: billions of dollars are being waged in states where sports gambling is against the law.

Surowiecki then goes on to detail New Jersey’s battle with the federal government and major professional sports leagues to change the law. The first step was New Jersey voters approving an amendment to the state constitution legalizing sports betting in 2011.

In his article, Surowiecki quotes I. Nelson Rose, an expert on gambling law at Whittier Law School, describing the law as arbitrary. “It’s as if in 1929 Congress had decreed that a dozen states would be allowed to have sound in the their movie theatres and all the other states would only be allowed to show only silent films,” Rose says.

Surowiecki notes that though “all the states except Utah and Hawaii have commercial gambling in some form,” sports betting which involves more skill than a lottery, is restricted to only four states.

A major obstacle to the legalization of sports betting is that the major professional sports leagues state that wagering on sports harms their brands while at the same endorsing daily fantasy sports. It seems they want it both ways, but I believe the tide is turning.

In November 2014 NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote a New York Times op-ed called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” He calls a spade a spade and acknowledges that sports betting is “a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight.”

We all know what is going on. As Silver states, though “there is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States…some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.”

Silver continues, “Times have changed since PAPSA was enacted. Gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

The time is now to legalize sports betting. And the same arguments can be used to legalize online gambling. With proper regulation and consumer protections, Americans can be free to spend their entertainment dollars as they choose.

In August 2015 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia denied New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting saying it violated the PASPA, which came as no surprise. What did surprise me however was New Jersey’s tenacity.

On February 17 New Jersey appealed the decision of the three-judge panel and argued its case to the full court. They face formidable foes—the professional sports leagues—but I think we will see sports betting legalized throughout the country.

I never thought I’d live to see the day.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Honor and Integrity in Poker and Gambling

Bicycle Casino

The poker world has been rocked in recent years by various scandals from the Absolute Poker super user and the collapse of Full Tilt Poker to the recent Borgata counterfeit chips scandal. This got me to thinking about honor and integrity in gambling and reminded me of the words a bookie in Alabama told me over 35 years ago.

Eddie was the life of our home poker games for years. Every Tuesday he would come by our game and settle up with the poker players, and then he would throw a little money away in the game. He was not really trying to win; he just liked to gamble.

This week was different. He owed around $25,000 and called to say he would need a week to settle up. This sent shockwaves through our small poker world. How could this happen?

When he stopped by the next week, I called him into a room and said, “Eddie, what happened? You have always been so honorable.” He said, “The truth is I didn’t pay attention to my business. I always wrote the parlays and teasers and put them in a cigar box and looked at them on Monday mornings because they were usually losing propositions. This time they all won, and it was for over $1 million. I got broke. I’m now poor Ed. Robert, you can only be honorable as long as you can be honorable.”

The mistake Eddie made took away his honor, but he had confronted the issue head on; he didn’t try to hide from it. The following story told to me by legendary Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, now running the South Point’s Race and Sports Marketing division, demonstrates the opposite.

Jimmy was talking to a bookmaker friend of his that was having a bad season. He said, “Jimmy, it has all come down to an airplane game.” Jimmy asked him what an airplane game was, and he replied, “I’m going to the airport to watch the game. If my players lose the game, I’m back in action and have a bankroll. If my players win, then I’m catching a plane to who knows where.”

Poker in California was in a similar predicament at one time. For over 50 years, California had become the training ground for the best cheats in the world because everybody handled the deck in pass-the-deal games. This created games that were plagued by everything from petty cheating to full-blown organized theft.

However, when hold’em was legalized in California, it changed everything. George Hardie and Mike Caro were at the forefront of this change. As Caro says, “I realized that the old days of pass-the-deal and five-card draw would vanish.” He explains that this change would “lead to a complete rethinking of the California poker product with professional dealers and much safer and ethical games.”

After George Hardie cleaned up the games, I remember a couple of cheaters came down from Northern California and cheated the high-limit games at the Bicycle Casino with marked cards which they had managed to get a floor person to put in. This resulted in thousands of dollars being lost at the big game. Hardie instructed his management team to give the players their money back, which was over a hundred thousand dollars.

Hardie could do this because he had the money, and it protected the integrity of the game and the business he founded. He let people know he would do whatever it took to restore the honor of the game.

I faced similar challenges as the General Manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Gardena, California, as we transitioned from the old pass-the-deal days to center dealers. Changing the way people perceived the card room was my biggest task.

Today the new frontier is online gaming, and it is experiencing some of these same growing pains. Caro, along with his colleague Bill Handy, continues to advance ethical poker by working on a new system called COPS to detect online cheating. This shows how things change and still stay the same.

This takes me back to the words Eddie said at the beginning of the article. You can be honorable only as long as you can be honorable. And in the case of Borgata, regulation can only go so far; you can only regulate what you can regulate.

If someone is determined to cheat, he will find a way. We, as players, always need to be vigilant to protect each other and the game we love. That is the only honorable thing to do.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at and on Twitter @thechipburner.
Robert Turner can also be reached at for consulting, marketing and teaching.