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NBA Commissioner Thinks Gambling On Games Should Be Legal

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference during the NBA Board of Governors meeting in July.
John Locher
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks at a news conference during the NBA Board of Governors meeting in July.

"I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated."

That's what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver writes in a New York Times op-ed that argues for the legalization of gambling on professional sports, which he says is "currently illegal in most of the United States outside of Nevada."

Times are changing, Silver says, and gambling has become popular and accepted. He notes that most states have lotteries and casinos, and that three have approved at least some form of Internet gambling. And where it's not legal, people are doing it anyway, he says.

Silver adds:

"But despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites. There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States, but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year."

It's not a departure for Silver — he has publicly supported legalized gambling since at least 2009 when he told USA Today Sports that "we can't live with our heads in the sand" as international gaming companies routinely offer betting on NBA games.

He says sports betting should be strictly regulated and monitored.

But the major professional sports leagues — the National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball — have long resisted such a move. All supported the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992.

Still, sports betting could happen sooner rather than later. Next week, a federal judge is expected to rule on New Jersey's efforts to allow sports betting in its struggling casinos — something the NBA, along with the NFL, MLB, NHL and NCAA, have opposed.

If that doesn't pan out, fans still have the fantasy version of sports gaming. This week, the NBA signed an exclusive deal with FanDuel, one of the most popular online fantasy sports leagues.

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Laura Sullivan
Laura Sullivan is an NPR News investigative correspondent whose work has cast a light on some of the country's most significant issues.