David Stern Says He Supports Legal Sports Betting Backed by Federal Law

Retired NBA Commissioner David Stern reversed his position on Thursday when he called for sports betting to be legalized in the United States. Late last year, Stern’s successor, Adam Silver, called for the legalization of sports gambling.

David Stern was speaking in Manhattan on Thursday at a sports and digital forum, which is where he made his remarks. When prompted to give his opinion on the issue, Stern said, “I’m with Commissioner Silver. here should be federal legislation that says, ‘Let’s go all the way‘ and have betting on sports. It’s OK. It’s going to be properly regulated.

Stern on New Jersey: “Trying to Victimize Us”

It’s a stark reversal for a man who claimed in 2012 that New Jersey was “trying to victimize us” when the state passed a sports gambling legalization bill. He added in a public interview that New Jersey was passing laws “which are certain to put more compulsive gamblers into play and cause people to bet their grocery money on gambling.

During his interview in 2012, while claiming he was uncertain about the complexities of the case, Stern claimed he knew what Gov. Chris Christie’s administration was doing. Court documents from the time had David Stern saying that New Jersey “has no idea what it’s doing“.

The exact words released in December 2012 had Stern saying, “The one thing I am certain of is that New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing, and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two.

Still Opposes Jersey Sportsbooks

For his part, David Stern–a native of Bergen County, New Jersey–said he still disagreed with New Jersey’s attempts to legalize sports betting. Stern, who served as NBA Commissioner from 1984 until February 2014, said in a post-lecture interview on Thursday, “The only thing that makes sense for professional sports is to have federal legislation and regulation. If it’s subject to 50 individual states, you have every state representative who thinks he has a perfect idea–that’s problematic.

Because he has not changed his position on the New Jersey case, there is a certain consistency in Stern’s basic position, if you remove the essence of the words from the histrionics which sometimes characterized his public relations as commissioner. Long time NBA fans are likely to remember how David Stern tended towards pomposity in his public interviews, often preferring to lecture instead of discuss. Even with friendly interviewers, he did not take lightly to criticism or opposition in any way. Such is the way with people in power, who get used to having their way. When New Jersey looked like it was going to do something which might have harmed the NBA, David Stern was quick to censure his home state.

A man stepping away from the reins of power for a year-and-a-half after 30 years as an executive can have profound effects. This is a kinder, gentler David Stern, no longer needing to see to his league’s interests, willing to give some ground. Adam Silver was a trusted understudy for a long time, so it is likely the two talk often. Even if they do not, the commissioner’s op-ed piece in the New York Times likely would have tremendous effect on the thinking of a man like David Stern.

Liberal Stance on Gaming Laws

The federal solution also goes back to a common thread with the ex-commissioner. For decades, David Stern has been an outspoken liberal and supporter of the Democratic Party. He naturally would prefer to see a solution imposed by the federal government, because liberals tend to look for the government to even the playing field, while they distrust state governments as too easily swayed by special interests in that state. If you look back at David Stern’s comments on Jersey’s attempts to legalize sportsbooks, he is saying a special interest (Atlantic City) is pushing a bad policy for selfish reasons.

On Thursday, David Stern reiterated as much, when he said, “Pro sports leagues, by their very constitutions, are national entities that are more easily regulated by one body. And I think that gives a way for states to make more money, for leagues to be compensated for their intellectual property, and for the federal government to take [away] illegally bet money and put it through the federal coffers.

Sees a Hidden Value in Legal Battle

Stern said he hoped New Jersey did not win its court case, because it would open up the proverbial can of worms. Still, he said, if Chris Christie’s administration did win the legal value, there might be a “hidden value” in the victory. He believes such a win would prompt quick and decisive federal legislation on the matter.

The importance of having the commissioners of the NBA and Major League Baseball come out in support of a federal solution to sports betting laws cannot be overestimated.

Leagues’ Opinion Is Pivotal

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 was the brainchild of the NFL, NBA, and MLB. The law would not have existed, had they not lobbied Congress for its passage. If ever they call for the end of PASPA, it would likely be a decisive call for change.

About Cliff Spiller

Cliff Spiller has been an online writer for 14 years. He worked for Small World Marketing for a decade, where he covered topics like gaming, sports, movies, and how-to guides. Since 2014, he has blogged about US and international gambling news on BestOnlineCasinos.com, USPokerSites.com, and LegalUSPokerSites.com

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