NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently discussed the taboo topic of sports betting at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit, becoming one of the first leaders of a professional sports organization to address the elephant in the room as legalization talks continue to heat up in the United States.
The NBA betting scandal that was uncovered in 2007 involving referee Tim Donaghy had hurt the chances of legalized wagering on the sport ever becoming a reality outside Nevada, but a continued push in other states like New Jersey has shed new light on the opportunity for all parties involved to benefit from it.
The Donaghy case was a black eye for sports gambling legalization because it showed how vulnerable individuals close to the game can be who are desperate for money. Referees in the NBA can obviously dictate the tempo and control the number of fouls called in a game, and Donaghy took advantage of his inside information. But Donaghy’s exposure also forced the NBA to deal with sports betting publicly for the first time and take necessary precautions to prevent something like that from ever happening again.
Former NBA Commissioner David Stern often dodged questions regarding NBA betting, even choosing to avoid talking about potential franchise expansion to Las Vegas because of the stereotypes associated with it. Silver’s arrival as Stern’s replacement has been viewed by many as a breath of fresh air though, starting with the way he handled the Donald Stern controversy by paving the way for him to be removed as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the aftermath of his racist remarks going public.
Silver acknowledging that the NBA could actually benefit from betting due to further interest and engagement in the sport while also admitting he has no moral issues with it is a huge step forward towards legalization. If Silver really does believe legalized sports betting is “inevitable” as he stated at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit, then his support will likely be needed to help inform and convince other key leaders – including the NFL’s Roger Goodell and NHL’s Gary Bettman – of the benefits.