It seems like, during the next Olympic Games in 2016, you will be able to bet your gold legally in Nevada on who will win the gold.
Nevada gaming regulators have voted unanimously to permit the state’s sports books to accept wagers on the Olympic games for the first time in years. Nevada joins international sports books in a number of other countries that already allow such bets. And at least one commissioner has been reported to have said that, at a recent meeting in Philadelphia, a member of the International Olympic Committee was delighted to hear that Nevada was considering the move.
Within minutes of the announcement of the vote, sports book William Hill had set a line on Usain Bolt of Jamaica as the favorite to win the men’s 100 yard dash and on the U.S. men’s basketball team to win a gold medal in their competition. Other sports books are planning to offer wagers on a wide variety of Olympic events.
The move to permit betting on the Olympics follows the trend over the past few decades for countries to include more and more professional athletes on their Olympic teams. The Olympics were once viewed as a carefully guarded protectorate for amateur athletes – recall the disfavor shown to the professional coach in the movie Chariots of Fire – but that is clearly no longer the case. The broad participation of professional athletes in the Olympics clearly removed the specter of betting infecting the “pure” amateur character of the event.
The other trend that contributed to the current environment relates to sports betting itself. To put it plainly, sports betting in the United States (legal and illegal) is huge. There has been an increasing recognition of the revenue possibilities for states that conduct regulated sports books. In Nevada, the amount of money wagered at regulated books has increased in each of the past five years. In 2014, gamblers wagered $3.9 billion on sports in Nevada. Given that this is believed to be only a fraction of the amount wagered by Americans on illegal offshore books and other unsanctioned forums, it is not difficult to see why sports books are excited to add more betting to their menus.
The obvious question is – what does this mean for regulated sports betting more broadly? Thus far, the major sports leagues have, for the most part, vigorously opposed the expansion of sports betting to other states – particularly in New Jersey, where the governor and legislature have made more than one recent effort to institute legal regulated sports betting that has been blocked by the leagues’ legal actions. But if the Olympics – the historic bastion of amateur sports – survives bets placed at American sports books (at least in Nevada), perhaps the leagues will see that, by barring further states with sports wagering, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) provides protection that sports really do not need. Or if the leagues do not see that, perhaps the United States Congress will and will set things right.
In any event, one thing is certain: In the summer of 2016, when the athletes are standing on the podiums listening to the playing of their national anthems, there will be people in Nevada sports books busy tallying up their own wins and losses.