The American Gaming Association Scored a Big Advocacy Win. Now What?

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling has made sports betting legal across the country. That represents a victory for AGA, but it sees more challenges ahead.

On May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law—the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)—that banned sports betting in nearly all states. For the American Gaming Association, which represents casinos, the decision marks a huge success after a lengthy advocacy effort. For the past four years, AGA has argued that legalized sports betting would be an economic boon in states that allowed it, and a burden lifted from law enforcement.

You have to be a little bit of a broken record.

Indeed, the group and its president and CEO, Geoff Freeman, pressed the matter so often that one gaming-industry publication likened AGA to a broken record. Freeman said he embraces that criticism, recalling a lesson he learned from political pundit Chris Matthews’ book Hardball. “He made a comment that when you’re sick and tired of saying something, then the media is hearing it for the first time,” he said. “I think that’s true not just of the media, that’s true of your own members, and that’s true of whomever your target audience might be. You have to be a little bit of a broken record. You have to be committed to the campaign that you want to run.”

AGA’s strategy for battling the ban started in 2014, the same year that New Jersey passed a law permitting sports betting at casinos and racetracks, following a 2011 referendum that was challenged by multiple sports leagues. As legal challenges to the law made their way through the courts, AGA began to coordinate with its members, law enforcement, and leagues, making the case that illegal betting drained potential revenues from the states and created gray and black betting markets that were connected to other illegal activities. While leagues have been the most resistant to legalized sports betting, they’ve softened their stance in recent years, and AGA argued that it has successfully made the case that legal betting can occur while preserving the integrity of the sports.

“Even the professional sports leagues that pushed for PASPA have now embraced a legal sports betting environment to help drive fan engagement and diminish the risk to game integrity posed by the illegal market,” Freeman wrote in a letter to Congress following the Supreme Court ruling.

That letter shows that AGA still has work to do despite a sizable advocacy victory. Its next steps will be to encourage Congress to leave any regulatory matters regarding sports betting to the states. To that end, it’s shifted its advocacy staffing. “We’ve just brought on a new head of state affairs, which is something AGA had never had before,” he said. “This was an organization built to focus on Congress. We are now getting more active in the states, and I see that as a great resource to the industry.”

As AGA continues to communicate with Congress, states, and leagues, Freeman said the Supreme Court ruling is evidence that its persistence has paid off.

“I see a lot of great associations that launch what seem to be really interesting new initiatives, and then they move onto the next one without perhaps getting every ounce of value they can from the existing initiative,” he said. “We’ve been focused on this since 2014. We’ve been relentless in talking about the failings of the federal ban on sports betting. I think that that focus has been a critical part of our success here.”

(CatLane/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!