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.

The Man Who Lost $127 Million: Responsible Gambling and the Duty of Care


Putting a 24-hour casino in every home comes with great responsibility. Ensuring a safe, responsible gambling experience should be of paramount importance. Online gambling companies talk incessantly about revenue, but it is everyone’s responsibility from regulatory bodies to operators, from governments to the citizens themselves to require that all proper consumer protections and safeguards are in place before online gambling can go live. It is imperative that all stakeholders in online gambling be well versed not just in its benefits but its pitfalls as well.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic illustrations of what happens when a gaming company puts revenue before responsibility is the case of Terrance Watanabe who is reported to have lost most of his personal fortune recklessly gambling in Las Vegas. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal published December 5, 2009, “During a year-long gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, Terrance Watanabe managed to lose nearly $127 million. The run is believed to be one of the biggest losing streaks by an individual in Las Vegas history.” While Steve Wynn is reported to have barred Watanabe from his casino for compulsive gambling, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. welcomed him and derived 5.6% of its Las Vegas gambling revenue from him that year.

This case showed such an egregious lack of sound business judgment on the part of Harrah’s, now Caesars Entertainment, that the company was fined $225,000 by New Jersey regulators in March of this year. Gary Thompson, Director of Corporate Communications for Caesars Entertainment said, “Because of the confidential settlement agreement we reached with Watanabe, neither he nor we can make any official comment.” However, he points out that Caesars hired an outside agency to investigate the situation and made procedural changes deemed necessary to prevent recurrences.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has taken a more proactive approach to responsible gaming and has expressed great concern over the potential spread of excessive gambling in his state. When he conditionally vetoed that state’s online gambling bill in February of this year, one of his main recommendations was to increase funding of compulsive gambling programs.

In a statement released with his veto, Gov. Christie said his recommendations are intended to continue “the tradition in New Jersey of a fine, careful, and well-regulated implementation of gaming.” The operative word here is “careful.” In the rush to reap the financial windfall online gambling companies promise, oftentimes the need for consumer safeguards is overlooked. Gov. Christie signed the bill into law once the Legislature agreed to his changes. It is the duty of all jurisdictions considering introducing gambling to its citizens, whether in brick-and-mortar or online casinos, to take such a thoughtful, measured approach to the issue. Doing any less could have devastating effects. Today, November 21, Internet gambling begins a five-day trial run in New Jersey.  This will put Gov. Christie’s promise to the test.

As Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), states, “We are concerned that as jurisdictions race to legalize internet gambling, often in an attempt to boost their gaming tax revenues, they are neglecting serious problem gambling concerns. Without comprehensive responsible gaming policies, the massive expansion of internet and social gaming may exacerbate gambling addiction. Our IRG (Internet Responsible Gaming) standards incorporate best practices from around the world, and we strongly urge they be incorporated into online gaming legislation and regulation.” There is no question problem gambling destroys lives. Organizations such as NCPG propose that a comprehensive public health strategy is the most ethical and cost-effective response to the gambling addiction issues raised by internet gambling. The universal adoption of responsible gaming standards by operators and regulators alike, in tangent with well-informed consumers, is an important aspect of this approach. Legislation and regulation of online gambling must keep up with the rapid pace of technology.

While I was marketing director for The Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, I produced many successful events that created enormous revenue for the casino. The morning after one such event I drove into the parking lot of the casino and noticed an elderly woman crying into her hands. This image has haunted me to this day. I thought to myself, “Did I do this to her?” This is the question all the stakeholders in online gambling should ask themselves. Let’s not forget there is a human face in front of that computer screen.

Resources for Problem Gambling:

National Council on Problem Gambling,, 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous,, 1-855-222-5542

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He 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 and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at and on Twitter @thechipburner.  Contact Robert at for consulting, marketing or teaching.