Dozens of people gather around a large TV, betting slips in hand, to watch the end of the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots football game in a sports book at a Las Vegas casino. Cam Newton sets Graham Gano and the Panthers up in field goal range with time about to expire. The score, 30-30.
Everyone around the TV starts yelling. “I can make this in my sleep!” “You better not miss this!” “I knew I shouldn’t have bet this game.” And so on and so on. Gano steps up and drills the kick, resulting in the heavily favored Patriots to lose the game. Tickets get tossed into the air and prepping for the next bet begins.
According to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, it is legal in four states to wager on sporting events in the United States.
The four states are Nevada, which allows full scale sports wagering, Delaware, which has limited wagering of NFL games in a parlay system, Oregon and Montana.
However, a bill has been introduced in the state House by Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, that could make Michigan the fifth state to regulate sports wagering. The bill likely faces an uphill battle in the Republican controlled legislature, where it has yet to get a committee hearing.
“It would allow the holder of a casino license to accept wagers on sporting events,” said Marina Carabellese, a legislative assistant for Kosowski.
According to a legislative analysis of the bill, Nevada casinos’ 194 sports pools grossed $233.50 million in the fiscal year 2015-16. Sports wagering established approximately 2.1 percent of $11.20 billion in total casino gross receipts in the state of Nevada.
Michigan’s three Detroit casinos, MGM Grand, Greektown and MotorCity, grossed $1.39 billion in 2016. If the proportion is similar to Las Vegas, Detroit casinos could generate $25-30 million annually, according to the bill analysis.
“Sports wagering in Detroit would make me want to come to Detroit casinos much more,” Dalton Pecar, a senior at Michigan State University, said. “I think it would bring in more money for the city and it would financially benefit those who offered it.”
The state of Michigan taxes casino wagering at 8.1 percent, so a hypothetical $25-30 million would produce roughly $2-2.4 million annually to the state School Aid Fund, according to the bill analysis.
“One of the main inspirations for this legislation is finding sources of revenue for the state that could be used to help local governments,” Carabellese said.
Currently, it is against federal law to allow sports wagering in most states.
If this bill does pass, it would open a discussion similar to the actions being taken in New Jersey.
“New Jersey is currently challenging PASPA” federal law, said Jennifer Roberts, an associate director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the University of Northern Las Vegas said.
“They were actually given a one-year exemption under that law, they had one year to make it legal in Atlantic City casinos, but they did not do it. So, they came back several years later and actually want sports gambling now.”
Just because the bill passes, doesn’t mean casinos can open up a sports book right away. In order to make it legal and regulated, the federal government has to change the law.
“That is the case (as we see in New Jersey) before the U.S. Supreme Court that is trying to determine the scope of that law,” Roberts said. “What that case determines may open up sports wagering in other states.”
There are still many steps for sports wagering to be regulated in Michigan and in other states across the country.
“I’m pro regulating gambling,” Roberts said. “Meaning that gambling happens, it is kind of like one of those facts of life. Since it is going to happen it is better to do it in a regulated environment rather in an illegal, unregulated environment where you don’t have added protections for the consumer.”
Online gambling sites
As of now, sports wagering and online gambling websites are both illegal in Michigan. Bovada is an online gambling site that offers sports betting, online casino games and horse racing bets.
Pecar has a Bovada account because it makes games exciting to watch and it is a way for him to make money watching his favorite teams.
“I use Bovada because it is easy to use and there isn’t a legal way to do it yet where I live (Michigan),” Pecar said.
A lot of these online websites are offshore sites that operate in Bermuda, Costa Rica and many other places.
“Any Internet sports wagering that is not conducted in Nevada is illegal,” Roberts said. “A lot of those offshore sites are not legally operating in the United States.”