UFC Executive Says Regulated Sports Betting Would Enchance American Sports
Ultimate Fighting Championship Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein says he supports legalized sports betting in the United States. Epstein told ESPN that he believes expanded sports betting would benefit all US sports, including the UFC.
Lawrence Epstein’s comments mark him as the second executive of a major U.S. sports to claim sports betting would help–not hurt–the top American sports leagues. Twice in the past two months, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stated that he believes his league should embrace sports gambling as “inevitable”. Silver believes the NBA should embrace sports gambling and extract revenues from the process, much like the English Premier League does in the United Kingdom.
Espstein: Regulated Gambling Would “Enhance” Sports
Epstein (pictured right) challenges the widely-held notion that legalized sports betting would hurt the UFC and other sports. The executive told ESPN, “I think it will enhance the game as opposed to doing anything to hurt it. Sports wagering done in a way, like Nevada, that is properly regulated will give more confidence to fans that games and fights aren’t fixed.”
American sports associations like the NBA, NFL, NHL, NCAA, and Major League Baseball long have held a diametrically opposed view to the one Lawrence Epstein stated. As far back as 1976, the NFL sued the state of Delaware over its sportsbooks. Though it eventually lost that case, the NFL and its fellow sports leagues joined to push for the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992.
Why the PASPA Exists
The PASPA legislation was the brainchild of the sports leagues, which spent millions of dollars lobbying to have it passed. The leagues wanted regulated sports betting eliminated across 50 states, but the four states which already had legal betting lobbied to see a carve-out for their institutions. Therefore, Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon were grandfathered into the PASPA system.
When President George H.W. Bush signed the PASPA into law in October 1992, it created a 46-state ban on the sports gambling. The only exceptions were parimutuel horse and dog racing, and jai alai. The ostensible reason for that ban was to protect sports leagues from the ravages of the gambling. It was argued by David Stern, Paul Tagliabue, and colleagues that gambling would lower public confidence in sporting events and damage the leagues’ economic viability. Over the past 22 years, Nevada sportsbooks have continued to make billions off of sports bets, and Americans seem to remain confident in the outcome of events.
Why the PASPA Doesn’t Make Sense
Epstein joins a growing chorus of legal experts, gaming analysts, and sports pundits who see no reason for the PASPA law. Despite that sentiment, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp ruled that the sports league would face “irreparable damage” if New Jersey was allowed to legalize sports gambling. Judge Shipp wrote a broad opinion on the matter, claiming “The scope of the restraints is NOT limited to the games sponsored by the plaintiffs’ leagues.”
That decision means that sports not involved in the lawsuit were affected. Soccer games, tennis matches, and MMA bouts are also affected by the U.S. District Court ruling. Several legal experts went on the record to say such a ruling is bizarre, because it would imply the National Football League might suffer irreparable harm if Monmouth Park took bets on a soccer match.
More Legal Experts Criticize Shipp
Dan Etna, a partner in the New Jersey-based sports law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said that the ruling was “unusual“. Etna said, “I found it interesting that he used such a broad brush in applying equitable relief.”
Daniel Wallach, a gaming and sports law attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, told an ESPN reporter, “How can the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball or hockey claim irreparable harm from bets being made on soccer? They can’t. The leagues might win on the merits following summary judgment or a trial, but they can’t get a preliminary injunction to ban New Jersey from taking action on boxing, MMA, and soccer.”
UFC Stance on New Jersey Gambling
One might see Lawrence Epstein’s comments as the personal opinion of a lone executive with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But Epstein’s ultimate bosses at UFC, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, own a controlling interest in the Nevada-based Station Casinos. The Fertitta brothers also launched an online gaming portal in the nascent New Jersey online gambling industry. It proved unsuccessful and they pulled out, but the Fertitta brothers obviously believe New Jersey should have the right to set its own gaming laws.
Speaking on behalf of UFC, Espstein said, “To the extent that there’s nothing illegal about taking bets on UFC in the state of New Jersey, we’d be absolutely fine with it.”
The ATP tennis circuit also recently released a statement to the same effect. ATP holds tennis tournaments in 31 different countries, including hardline anti-gambling countries like the United States and China, and deals with many different international gambling laws. The ATP, which organizes tournaments with players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokavic, and Andy Murray, said in a statement, “We respect the right of local governments to determine legislation in this area as they see fit.“
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