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The NFL's Back And More States Are Competing For Sports Betting Dollars

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Betters line up to place wagers after sports betting became legal in Indiana at the Indiana Grand Racing & Casino in Shelbyville, Ind., Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019.

The NFL season starts tonight with a traditional clash between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

But a new tradition is also beginning this season.

Nevada has long been this only state to allow full-scale legal sports betting. Now sports betting is allowed nationwide and 12 states have joined Nevada, with a handful more moving toward legalization.

And according to Jennifer Roberts, with UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation, there’s more to come.

Eventually, Roberts says, she thinks almost every state--perhaps not Utah--will legalize sports betting.

However, Roberts said many states need to lower their expectations when it comes to revenue from sports betting.

“I think states shouldn’t take the approach that sports betting is going to resolve budgetary problems," she said. "It’s not going to fund schools and build roads and repair bridges. But what it does add is, first of all, it takes away and captures revenues that are out there in the illegal market and it also provides amenities and business opportunities where it didn’t exist before.”

Nevada's sports betting industry accounts for only about 2.5 percent of the total casino take.

And one of the problems is that sports betting can be boom or bust. On Saturdays, books can rake in the money on college games, but they can also lose millions the next day in the NFL.

“What that demonstrates is that sports betting is a volatile industry," Roberts said. "You’re going to have sometimes big wins and big losses."

One of the good things about legal sports betting is that it largely puts an end to illegal betting, which did well when the activity was banned in every state but Nevada.

“We saw that market really flourish without capturing any revenues, proving consumer protections and providing a regulated process that can protect others especially those that might have problems with gambling,” she said.

People would bet with friends or their local bookie or offshore. Now, states are establishing systems that protect everyone and capture the taxes from those transactions.

How those systems are being set up is different than in Nevada.

“What New Jersey adopted is that you can actually set up a sports wagering account and never have to go into a physical establishment,” she said.

In Nevada, bettors are still required to set up their mobile betting accounts in a casino. 

Also, many states put limits on betting on colleges. Nevada had a similar regulation until the early 2000s. That changed when members of Congress started to ask: if sports betting is so safe, why doesn't Nevada legalize college sports betting.

“And it was the decision that actually we do trust our system," Roberts explained, "We like the transparency and we want to be able to weed out any corruptive behavior.”

A question that always comes up is whether the competition for sports betting dollars will hurt Nevada's biggest economic engine, gaming.

Roberts doesn't think anyone should be worried.

“My personal opinion has always been people come to Nevada for entertainment," she said, "They come to enjoy Lake Tahoe. They come to enjoy the Las Vegas Strip. They come here for a variety of reason. They weren’t coming here just for the purpose of placing a wager on sports because guess what – they could do that in their hometown. They were just doing it in an illegal environment.”


Jennifer Roberts, associate director, UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.