As the United States attempts to implement legal sports’ betting effectively, it may be best served to follow Britain’s lead. The latest figures reported by the UK gambling commission say the sector is responsible for nearly 15 billion pounds of annual yield and over 100,000 employees. Sports’ gambling is a delicate institution. When executed properly, it can be a perfectly viable leisure activity. But its perils lie in addiction and sporting integrity. A closer look at Britain’s experiences with sports’ gambling could provide the clues the United States needs.
Britain’s regulatory history in gambling began with the Gambling Act of 2005. Its objectives were, ‘preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.’ The act created the Gambling Commision, which still oversees the regulation of betting to this day. The Gambling Act was revisited and updated in 2014.
Sports’ betting regulation must go far beyond licensing and advertising policy and include safeguards that protect integrity. ‘From a UK perspective I think we’re in a pretty good place when it comes to what our sports’ governing bodies do to protect against risks to the integrity of our sports, but you can never be complacent,’ said Leigh Thompson, Policy Manager with the Sport and Recreation Alliance, a group that represents over 300 sports’ bodies, including the Sports’ Betting Group, in government engagement.
High profile examples of match-fixing have been few and far between in UK sports. The most high-profile incident came in 2010, when three Pakistani cricket players colluded with a bookmaker to throw deliberate no-balls at certain junctures in their Test match against England at Lord’s. All four schemers served jail time for the offence. The Gambling Commission takes measures to ensure occurrences of fixing are never left unpunished.
Both the rugby and cricket World Cups have dedicated integrity officers shadowing teams at events. Every team were given briefings pre-tournament around the rules on betting and the potential of being approached by criminals looking to fix games. Since the United Kingdom hosts these events, they have a responsibility to maintain standards of integrity. The construct can be more complicated in sports like tennis.
The Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) is responsible for enforcing the players ‘zero-tolerance policy on betting corruption.’ It is an independent body funded by the men’s and women’s tours, the major tournaments and the International Tennis Federation. Thompson suspects there is a dialogue between the Lawn Tennis Association (Britain’s governing body for tennis) and the TIU to ensure the proper anti-corruption measures are taken at the country’s many pro-level events, including Wimbledon.
For the United States to replicate the UK’s regulatory cohesiveness, it will need to adopt a federal policy on gambling. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court struck down the
Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a ban on sports betting for every state except Nevada. It is now up to the 52 states to decide for themselves if gambling is to be permitted.
‘From a sport perspective that would be a concern, because you want to have some consistency in the way the gambling market is regulated,’ Thompson said.
Chad Millman, Head of Media at the Action Network, a sports’ gambling media company based in New York, believes the US could learn from the UK system, but the execution could be challenging.
‘Every state has different agendas about what is important to them’, Millman said. ‘While the core of integrity monitoring will likely be the same everywhere; dealing with any state legislative body leads to differences in regulations.’
For the United States, even a disjointed regulatory system could be an upgrade from the current state of affairs. The American Gaming Association estimates 150 billion dollars are wagered illegally every year. Legal sports betting in the US give leagues a better chance at achieving fair economic return and controlling integrity in a betting climate. Even if they find UK-esque success regulating the industry, the United States will likely find a different path.