A Congressional hearing on sports betting held by a House Judiciary subcommittee Thursday suggested that there may be an appetite for some sort of federal regulation of the industry, though no clear path towards legislation has materialized.

Congressional hearing sports betting
A Congressional hearing on sports betting suggested there was some appetite for federal oversight from lawmakers, if not a clear plan of action. (Image: OnlineGambling.com/Ed Scimia)

In what was the first Congressional hearing to deal with the sports betting industry in the past decade, lawmakers heard from five witnesses and seemingly came away with the impression that Congress should act in some form to provide oversight.

NFL Calls for Federal Oversight

Professional sports leagues and the NCAA have publicly stated that they would prefer some federal guidelines to rein in the state-by-state regulations that will ultimately govern how sportsbooks operate throughout the country. That opinion was expressed once again at the hearing by Jocelyn Moore, the NFL’s executive vice president of public affairs.

“Without continued federal guidance and oversight, we are very concerned leagues and states alone will not be able to fully protect the integrity of sporting contests and guard against the harms Congress has long associated with sports betting,” Moore told the committee.

The NFL has consistently expressed concerns about game integrity. The league has also pushed for the use of official league data in legalized sports betting, something that would give sports organizations more of a procedural hand in wagering.

“Consumers who choose to place wagers should know data is timely, accurate, consistent across markets – which can only be assured if the data comes from sports leagues or their licensees,” Moore said.

The idea of federal oversight seemed particularly appealing to Republican legislators.

“I think the one thing you all can agree on is for Congress to do nothing is the worst possible alternative,” Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said at the end of the hearing. “So this means we have some work to do.”

Industry: Current Regulations Sufficient

In reality, not everyone at the hearing agreed with that sentiment. Witness Sara Slane, a senior vice president for the American Gaming Association, said that there was no need for further complications in what was already an effective system.

“The bottom line is, with such robust and rigorous regulatory oversight at both the state and federal levels, there is no need to overcomplicate or interfere with a system that is already working,” Slane told the committee.

That sentiment was echoed by Nevada Gaming Commission chair Becky Harris.

“We have been in this business for decades and haven’t had any problems,” Harris told the committee. “What we have here is a regulatory process specifically to monitor what happens on both sides of the counter. This is all we do, and we’re good at it.”

But some legislators were not convinced, particularly when it came to bets placed over the internet.

“I do not believe gambling is a victimless activity,” said Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia). “I think that online gambling, in particular, can be more destructive to the families and communities of addictive gamblers than if a brick-and-mortar casino were built next door.”

As of yet, no bills have been introduced to address the issues that were brought up during the committee meeting, though some lawmakers – including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) have produced general principles they would like to see in a federal framework.