One of the more popular questions prior to Adam Silver’s takeover of the NBA, as commissioner, is how he would differ from his predecessor David Stern. Some thought Silver, considering he was Stern’s right hand man, would be a continuation of the former commissioner’s practices. Others had hoped that he would bring in a new era of NBA basketball with new ideas. Yesterday, it became evident that Adam Silver appears to be headed more towards the latter direction, when stating that he believes an increased engagement in the sports being watched will take effect, upon more states legalizing the betting of professional sports.
At the Bloomberg Sports Business summit yesterday, which took place in New York, Silver took part in a discussion about the future of gambling on professional sports. In his speech, the NBA commissioner admitted that he believes that it is inevitable, particularly if states are broke, that betting on professional sports will become legalized.
What is surprising about Silver’s speech is that it comes only two years after his predecessor, Stern, came down upon New Jersey for its attempt to legalize sports gambling. At the time, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was attempting to pass a law to allow sports gambling.
As a result, Stern, as well as the leaders of the MLB, NFL, NHL and NCAA, sued Christie and New Jersey for attempting to enact the law. In the case, it was Stern who believed that the state’s only interest was making an extra buck or two, with complete disregard to his and the other professional sports leagues. Additionally, he stated that by the law passing, it would mean a potential loss for the sports world.
Silver’s take on the situation differs greatly from Stern’s. In further comments, the new NBA commissioner said that he believed by putting in place a legal way to bet on sports, it would, ultimately, pay dividends for the industry.
To further his explanation, he used the example that by having a legal way to gamble on the outcomes of games, it would yield a greater level of interest in the sport. Moreover, with this increased level of interest, he concluded that ratings would increase for the game, as well as website clicks. In finalizing his opinion on the matter, Silver also mentioned that the process of betting on games has already been a common occurrence in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, to great success.
The points that Silver made on Thursday made sense. He is correct in that by legalizing betting on sports in more states beyond Nevada, it is likely to increase the amount of eyes on the television screen. As such, the NBA, among other sports leagues, would benefit financially through larger numbers and interest.
While Silver has a unique, positive stance on sports gambling, his competition, as well as his former boss, are right to have qualms about the situation. Stern’s major gripe with having legalized sports betting was that states, particularly casinos, would financially take advantage of the sport being played. However, with Silver’s comments, it comes into question whether or not the advantage goes to the state or to the sport, as to which benefits the most from more eyes on the television screen.
Additionally, with the establishment of more states legalizing sports betting, comes a higher risk of each league’s personnel betting on games. In essence, by having more options to legally gamble on games, there is the possibility of more professionals following in the steps of disgraced referee Tim Donaghy. When Donaghy did it, he was betting on games he was officiating, leading many to speculate that certain games were fixed under his watch. The Donaghy controversy gave the NBA a major black eye.
The Donaghy situation was only one occurrence of stacking the deck, due to gambling on professional sports. Others have been reported over the years but not of the same controversial nature. However, considering it has happened, it most likely plays a part in all the professional sports leagues being timid in allowing legal sports gambling to take place in the future.
Whether it is a loss of money or the risky affair of a league’s personnel taking place in betting, legalizing sports gambling remains a controversial topic in the athletic world. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Adam Silver, who believes sports betting increases engagement and interest in the sports one is watching, one thing is for certain — David Stern he is not. Instead, Silver continues to project his honesty and continues to come up with creative ideas for the future. The question remains now whether or not the increase of sports betting is inevitable or if it merely will stay as a taboo subject.
Commentary By Simon Mounsey