The players’ unions of the four major North American sports leagues released a joint statement on Thursday morning, announcing that they expect to have a seat at the table when it comes to the future of sports betting.

Players’ unions gambling statement
Players’ unions say their members want a seat at the sports betting table to protect the integrity of the game – and their own publicity rights. (Image: John Locher/AP)

The statement was released by the MLBPA, NFLPA, NBPA, and NHLPA. It marks the first time that the players’ unions have made any formal statements on their desire to help shape how gambling might become a larger part of professional sports in the United States.

“The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs,” read the statement, which was made available on social media. “Our unions have been discussing the potential impact of legalized gambling on players’ privacy and publicity rights, the integrity of our games and the volatility on our businesses.”

Unions Want Voice in Betting Implementation

While the statement was short, the main concern seemed to be that the businesses that are lobbying for sports betting could also become the ones who control how it is implemented.

“The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected,” the unions said in the statement.

The statement comes in anticipation of an upcoming Supreme Court decision in the case of Christie v. NCAA. Should New Jersey prevail in the case, the Supreme Court will likely repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prevents new states from regulating sports betting. It is expected that the court will release its decision sometime in the next three months.

Do Players Want Fees Too?

While this statement is the first from the players’ unions on the topic, the leagues themselves have not been silent. Over the last few years, professional sports organizations in the United States have shifted towards a desire to see sports betting legalized.

But this shift has come with a catch. Both the NBA and MLB have advocated for state-level legislation that would include a one percent integrity fee. The PGA has also recently announced that it is in favor of such fees.

This fee would be paid to a league every time a bet is made on one of their games, and is based on betting handle rather than profits. That has led many in the gaming industry to say that these fees would make sports betting unprofitable, or at least uncompetitive with illegal betting operations. The leagues say these charges are necessary to compensate them for the extra expense and work it will take to ensure the integrity of their competitions.

Based on the wording of the statement, it appears as though players might be looking for the ability to profit off of the sports betting industry as well, particularly when it comes to “privacy and publicity rights.” However, they do also bring up the common concern of how legalized betting would affect the integrity of their games – a place where the leagues and the unions appear to be in agreement.

“We welcome the involvement of our players in this process and believe there is an alignment of interests of everyone involved in professional sports to protect the integrity of our competitions,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass told CNBC.

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