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USA TODAY Sports
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — The PGA Tour would welcome regulated and legalized sports betting on its competitions if the Supreme Court overturns the federal ban that prohibits such bets in most states.
“You have keep in mind that betting is happening right now, with illegal black markets and offshore betting, and we don’t have any exposure to what is happening,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told USA TODAY Sports in his first public comments on the issue. “If it’s legalized and regulated, you get to a point where you can better ensure the integrity of your competitions. You can provide adequate protection for consumers, which doesn’t exist today. There are commercial opportunities for us, which is one of the things we’re here to do, which is to create and maximize playing and financial opportunities for our players.
“And we believe we’d reach a much broader audience.”
The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision before its July recess. The case — Christie v. NCAA — was brought forth by then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie and sought to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting. Four states are exempt from the law, and Nevada is the only one allowed to offer betting on single games.
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“If the court decides the law is not constitutional, then it will obviously change the landscape of sports in the United States in a significant way,” said Andy Levinson, PGA Tour senior vice president of tournament administration.
The Tour has invested considerable time and money studying sports betting for several years, Monahan says, meeting with regulators, integrity experts, betting operators and others in the gambling industry. Monahan says the Tour has collaborated with the NBA and Major League Baseball to align lobbying efforts on the state and federal levels for legislation it supports.
For instance, the Tour seeks an “integrity fee,” likely 1% of the handle from betting operators. The Tour also wants input or control over the types of wagers offered to mitigate corruption. And it wants gambling operators to use only official data it produces.
“We’re making sure our voice is being heard,” Levinson said. “A lot of things remain to be determined. It’s not simply switching a switch. When the court rules it’s going to be big news for a while.”
Monahan says the Tour recently launched integrity programs in coordination with sports data company Genius Sports, which monitors all of the Tour’s events in real time for suspicious betting activity. In part, the program prohibits players, caddies, staff and others connected to the Tour from betting on professional golf through an operator or providing inside information to others for betting golf.
Genius Sports also provides integrity educational services, including an online module that is mandatory for all members. Plus, the Tour has installed a system for investigating and sanctioning parties for violations.
Players have been kept apprised of the potential for legalized sports betting, and Levinson says “they are on board.”
Adding to the uncertainty in the looming Supreme Court decision is whether Congress would be involved and whether online sports betting would be allowed. Levinson spent time in the U.K. where legalized sports betting is prevalent. He learned that 95% of the handle is bet online. In the U.S., only Nevada has online betting within its borders.
Levinson says if sports betting is limited to brick and mortar casinos, illegal online gaming will continue on a massive scale. Legalized mobile betting would help states maximize tax revenues, promote integrity and protect consumers, he says.
All in all, fans are a long way off from being able to legally bet that Tiger Woods would win a tournament or that Jordan Spieth would best Rickie Fowler in a head-to-head wager. Regulatory bodies would have to be created on the state level, licensing fees determined, a sports betting system put in place — all contingent on the Supreme Court’s decision.
“The point some people will make is that we are now actively supporting legalized gambling. Well, yes, we are,” Monahan said. “Because we want to protect the integrity of our competitions, protect the consumer, and there are commercial opportunities. And we have a fan-first mentality. We want to grow and diversify our fan base. There are a lot of things we are doing to address that, and this could be another avenue that contributes to that.
“Like anything else we do, we are being very thoughtful. If we’re to go down this path, and it’s a big if, because at this point there is a lot of uncertainty, we’ll be prepared and we’ll protect our players and protect our constituents who are involved.”