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PASPA Anniversary: Sports Betting Q&A With Gaming Expert Bill Pascrell

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 6 mins

PASPA Anniversary: Sports Betting Q&A With Gaming Expert Bill Pascrell

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The U.S. Supreme Court allowed states outside Nevada to legalize legal sports betting six years ago this month. 

The Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) through a case called “Murphy v. NCAA” was unconstitutional because it violated the rights of individual states to allow betting. 

Its 7-2 decision was released in the morning of May 14, 2018. At that time, New Jersey and Pennsylvania had already legalized sports betting in anticipation of the court’s eventual ruling. 

The court’s ruling opened the door for the growth of legal sports betting in the United States. Sports and gambling haven’t been the same since. 

We're looking at the sixth anniversary of PASPA being overturned in a series of stories.

Here, we chat with one of the key players in the case. Bill Pascrell, III is a partner at PPAG and a global gambling expert. Pascrell played a pivotal role in getting PASPA overturned and has played a major role in the growth of legal sports betting since. 

Some questions and answers have been edited for brevity: 

Q&A With Sports Betting, Gaming Expert Bill Pascrell

Bookies.com: Can you tell us about your role in getting PASPA overturned?

Pascrell: "I was retained in 2009 by a group of offshore sports books in an organization called iMEGA, or the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, made up of offshore books that wanted to legalize sports betting and other gaming opportunities like online gaming. I had to secure approval from the attorney general to accept a retainer from this client, which was brought to me by the head of the association and a good friend, Joe Brennan."

"I proceeded to quarterback the project of legalizing sports betting in New Jersey and throughout the country, including great collaboration with Governor Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. That began the 10-year campaign to repeal PASPA, managing both the legislative, political, and public affairs for this campaign and culminating in the 2018 Supreme Court decision to repeal PASPA."

Bookies.com: In just 6 years, nearly 75% of the country has legalized sports betting. Is that surprising? Or close to what was expected?

Pascrell: "We've had a really good five-year run in getting states to legalize sports wagering since the repeal of PASPA, and I'm not surprised by the slow pace of Texas and California. Once those two states embrace legalization, we’ll have legal sports betting in 90% of the country. While there are other states we continue to work on, with local politics and other issues delaying legalization, I’m pleasantly surprised by how sports betting has scaled since May 14, 2018."

Bookies.com: What will the next 6 years look like?

Pascrell: "We’re going to see continued innovation. It's very hard to break into the market as a start-up and become a sports betting operator because three operators take up the majority of the market—over 90%. (FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM). With that said, I do think if you have innovative technology and can show you're a differentiator and disruptor, there's a great chance that you can break into the market and get some market share."

"We’ll see continued focus on responsible gaming, which is important to creating a more sustainable industry. I also suspect there will be a renewed focus on payment processing and how to utilize it better in the sports wagering industry."

Bookies.com: What are the 1 or 2 states where you see sports betting having worked the best? 

Pascrell: "I think every state in the nation that has legalized and regulated sports betting since the repeal of PASPA has been an extraordinary success. I would point to my home state of New Jersey, as well as Colorado, as extraordinarily successful first movers. The regulatory regime has been great."

Bookies.com: And where has it fallen short? 

Pascrell: "While New York has a strong regulatory structure, the tax rate is not conducive to an environment that attracts and retains players, which would allow the operators to have revenue to put into their offerings. A 51% tax rate is not conducive to the sports wagering market because margins are thin, it's very expensive to get licensed and stay compliant, and it's extraordinarily costly to acquire and retain customers. Because of the cost, any jurisdiction with a tax rate over 50% is a disincentive for operators to provide a better customer experience. Now you see New York admitting they made a mistake, and there are bills in place to remedy that mistake."

Bookies.com: What are the top three challenges facing the legal sports betting ecosystem?

Pascrell: "Right up front, the most important issue is responsible gaming and addressing it in a real, meaningful way. It's not just about checking the box; it's about making sure you're protecting your customers so they're around to continue to be loyal customers."

"No. 2: The proposed proposition bet ban by the NCAA is a significant challenge to the industry because prop bets are so popular with customers and profitable for operators. We've already seen four states ban it, which is a mistake because that just pushes customers to the black market where they can easily make prop bets; it solves no problems, but the industry has a strong, powerful message to get out."

"No. 3: Some politicians have made recurring efforts to ban advertising in sports betting. This is another well-intended proposition to perhaps protect the more vulnerable who are susceptible to problem gambling. However, this would have the opposite impact and in fact, accelerate problem gambling because it would push customers to the black market, as affiliates and advertising educate customers to go to the legal market, not the black market."

Bookies.com: What has the industry gotten right? 

Pascrell: "Following the repeal of PASPA and the rollout of sports betting in early states like New Jersey, the industry has done a superb job in adhering to regulatory compliance, meeting anti-money laundering requirements, and strengthening cybersecurity measures. The industry’s commitment to regulatory and security protocols established its credibility early on, which has been crucial to its growth."

Bookies.com: And not-so-right?

Pascrell: "The industry’s effort to legalize sports betting in California was a direct attack on tribal gaming interests and a fool's errand from the start, and the proof is in the results: the industry was only able to garner 18% support statewide. Moving forward, we need to sit down with tribal gaming interests in California and see if we can come up with a viable solution—together."

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.