NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: A New Outlook on Sports Betting

Joey Kramer, KLJ Staff Editor

The week before Thanksgiving, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made headlines when he became the first commissioner in the history of the major sports leagues – the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and NCAA – to openly support sports gambling in the United States.  In an essay published in the New York Times, Silver wrote, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) enacted in 1992 prohibits all but four states – Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon – from regulating sports betting.[i] Silver is essentially lobbying for Congress to eliminate this prohibition by creating a federal system that gives states the ability to regulate and monitor sports betting.[ii]  According to the Commissioner, illegal sports gambling is a $400 billion enterprise that has continued to grow despite the federal ban that resulted from PAPSA.[iii] By bringing sports betting “into the sunlight,” it’s possible that appropriate regulations could be created to continue to improve the integrity of the game.[iv] Silver noted several of the regulations that he hoped to see in the future, including: mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements, a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate, minimum-age verification requirements, and mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems.[v]

Silver’s comments have been met with some confusion by critics, especially in light of current sports betting litigation in the state of New Jersey. In 2011, New Jersey passed a referendum to allow sports gambling in casinos and racetracks.[vi] The law was blocked by a United States district judge the following week.[vii]  The NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and the NCAA have been persistent in their efforts to prevent New Jersey from legalizing sports betting, with the NFL spearheading a lawsuit against the state.[viii]

While Silver’s essay might not initially seem in line with the league’s position in the New Jersey lawsuit, a closer examination proves otherwise. The Commissioner only supports federally regulated sports betting; he does not support unregulated sports betting, which is essentially what the proposed New Jersey law allows. It’s feasible that he may one day support sports gambling in New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks, but not before numerous federally mandated regulations are put in place.

Silver’s recent comments have also caused several critics to point out many potential risks of a legalized sports betting system such as the one Silver supports. One of the greatest areas of concern seems to be that legalized sports betting could tempt players to fix games to cash in on large bets. While I could see this as a potential (though unlikely) problem at the NCAA level, I find it highly improbable at the professional level. The simple fact is that lucrative salaries of professional athletes provide a strong incentive to avoid such temptations. Attempting to fix games carries with it several costs which athletes in today’s world would not be willing to risk.

While I do believe there is much to be done before sports betting is legalized in the United States, I also think that Commissioner Silver’s comments represent a changing of the guard in the sports world. I agree with the Commissioner that federally mandated regulations could prove extremely beneficial and could actually improve the integrity of the games we all love. It will be interesting to see how the Third Circuit Court of Appeals handles the New Jersey litigation and how others in the sports industry address Commissioner Silver’s comments moving forward.


[i] David Purdum, Explaining Silver’s Betting Stance, Espn (Nov. 18, 2014), http://espn.go.com/chalk/story/_/id/11896833/gambling-explaining-nba-commissioner-adam-silver-stance-sports-betting.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Adi Joseph, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Wants Legal Sports Gambling, USA Today (Nov. 13, 2014, 8:48 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2014/11/13/adam-silver-sports-gambling-commissioner-new-jersey-editorial/18998755.

[v] Matt Moore, Adam Silver Writes in Support of Legalization of Sports Gambling, CBS Sports (Nov. 14, 2014, 2:39 AM), http://www.cbssports.com/nba/eye-on-basketball/24805520/adam-silver-writes-in-support-of-regulation-legalization-of-sports-gambling.

[vi] Brian Cohn, Sports Gambling: Charge or Block?, Brown Political Review (Nov. 21, 2014, 2:15 AM), http://www.brownpoliticalreview.org/2014/11/sports-gambling-charge-or-block.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.