With legalized wagering on sporting events possibly coming soon, the unions representing the players who play the game have spoken out, in one voice.
The players associations representing Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL have issued the following statement: “Given the pending Supreme Court decision regarding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), representatives of the MLBPA, NBPA, NFLPA and NHLPA have been working together on the legal, commercial, practical and human consequences of allowing sports betting to become mainstream. The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs. Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility of our businesses. Betting on sports may become widely legal, but we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses. The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.”
It sounds good, but ultimately what does it mean? While the unions are free to lobby the various states considering gambling legislation in the same way that the NBA and Major League Baseball have done, ultimately neither the leagues nor the unions will have any power or leverage to force the rules to tilt in their favor. Short of shutting down the various sports, there’s nothing they can do to get “a seat at the table” or a piece of the pie or anything else once gambling is legal.
Gambling has happened legally for decades in Nevada, and illegally for decades longer in every other American jurisdiction. If the integrity of any games was going to be impacted, it already has been. (And, indeed, there have been examples of it over the years.)
The reality is (or at least seems to be) that the leagues and the unions realize that legalized betting will result in billions of dollars changing hands in a manner that allows leagues and/or unions to stick out a hand and hope it fills up. I can’t fault them for trying, but I also can’t imagine any state legislature saying anything to those who provide the basis for the betting other than, “Your sports will benefit from the increased interest driven by legal gambling. It will remain your obligation to ensure that your games have integrity.”