Column: Legalize sports gambling market


December is prime football season across America. No matter which team you support, we all love the sports pageantry and tradition that goes with it. Some also bet on the games. That hardly makes them unique. A great many do so, but they do it via a criminal network.

In late 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibited full-fledged sports betting outside of Nevada. But it’s no great secret that this bill has failed miserably. Since its passage twenty-five years ago, illegal sports gambling has grown to a $150 billion a year industry.

Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that could overturn this law, and bring sports gambling out of the shadows. It is long past time for this onerous and ineffective law to be repealed.

The massive, unregulated illegal sports betting market has zero oversight, no accountability, and is devoid of consumer protections. As a result, the clear majority of this money doesn’t just change hands among friends and family. Instead, it passes through criminal organizations, often based in other nations with loose laws around taxation and financial regulation.

It’s important to remember that illegal sports betting doesn’t stand alone — it supports a whole host of other illegal activities, from money laundering and racketeering, to extortion and drug trafficking. By bolstering crime, this cycle of illicit sports betting also drains law enforcement resources across the country. My colleagues who dedicate their lives to fighting crime and protecting all of us deserve support — and that means supplying them with full resources they require to do their jobs. But under PASPA, that isn’t a reality.

Along with lessening the burden on law enforcement, legalizing sports gambling would bring revenue to our states. An Oxford Economics study estimated that Michigan would see a $271.8 million increase in its GDP if sports betting were allowed in its casinos. Almost 3,300 jobs would be created, with a combined income of $154.2 million, and state and local tax revenues would increase by $48.1 million every year, according to the study. Government long ago determined gambling was a business they needed to be in and regulate. Just to name a few, they include casinos, horse racing and state run lotteries. It is time to pull this last portion from the criminal underworld and make it subject to the same standards set for casinos, horse racing and lotteries.

Gaming is currently legal in 40 states. This transparent, well-regulated industry works hand-in-glove with law enforcement and regulators. Legalized sports betting would work much the same. Transparent sports betting would drain money from criminal operations, while equipping law enforcement with powerful tools to monitor betting and protect against those who would harm the integrity of the games.

It’s time for the federal government to respect state sovereignty and allow states to determine their own sports betting laws. Until then, the shadow industry will continue to thrive from coast to coast, costing tax payers millions and placing undue strain on the honorable men and women who have dedicated their lives to public service as members of our law enforcement.

Michael Bouchard is sheriff of Oakland County and vice president of government affairs for Major County Sheriffs of America.

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