The gaming industry is excited about a Trump presidency and what it could mean for economic growth and fewer regulations, but no one is expecting Congress to move along any legislation quickly that would have a direct impact, such as legalized sports betting.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities for sports betting to jump to the forefront during a Trump presidency, said Daniel Wallach, a gaming and sports law attorney based in South Florida with the firm Becker &Poliakoff.
“Of the all the areas where a Trump presidency could have the greatest impact is probably sports betting,” Wallach said. “The Republicans in Congress are not big fans of online gambling, but Trump wants to put Americans back to work and sports betting creates greater infrastructure — more construction and more jobs and more facilities and brings people into a state. It’s good for casinos and the gaming industry overall.”
Wallach said that would be done by legislation, which would take time, but people should not forget Trump’s appointment of an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer in the nation who decides the enforcement of PASPA — the 1992 law referred to as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The federal law prevents state governments from legalizing sports gambling with the exception of four states — Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Only Nevada is allowed to offer traditional single-game wagers, while the others are limited to parlays with multiple team wagers, he said.
“You could have a situation where he could appoint an attorney general of his own and tell that person not to make a big deal about sports betting and that it’s not a high enough priority,” Wallach said.
A state could legalize sports betting and the major professional sports leagues would likely bring a lawsuit immediately, Wallach said. That might prompt some states to focus on the nonmajor sports such as soccer at first because it would want the attention of sports betting, he said.
The one appointment friendliest to sports betting would be New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie since his state has sued in court and unsuccessfully attempted to enact legislation to legalize sports betting, Wallach said. Christie, however, is an unlikely pick because of the controversy of a bridge closure that led to convictions of two of his former staffers, he said.
Working with Congress to come up with a federal law to legalize sports betting would take time, Wallach said.
That’s also the assessment of Kirk Blalock, a Republican and managing member of Washington, D.C.-based Fierce Government Relations. Laws don’t happen overnight, especially if it’s not something urgent like disaster relief or some other immediate need, he said. But he suggested Congress could take a look at PASPA that has gotten the attention of Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“When it comes to sports betting, we have to engage Capitol Hill, and if we’re going to do something that will take time,” Blalock said.
Steven Elmendorf, a Democrat and co-founder of Subject Matter, a strategic communications and government relations consulting firm in D.C., said the tendency in Congress is not to do a lot with issues that aren’t at the top of the list. The key going forward for new gambling laws will be to get a bipartisan coalition.
Blalock said the views about sports gambling have changed with the younger generation adopting fantasy sports. There’s an increased awareness that didn’t exist five years ago, and while that doesn’t put it at the top of the list, it’s important because it puts it in the conversation, he said.
While Congress may not enact any legislation directly related to gaming, Blalock said a Trump presidency would impact it. Republicans like Trump push for lower taxes and fewer regulations as part of economic growth that gives people more discretionary income and results in more travel and spending in the casino industry, he said.
“Would it be beneficial to the gaming industry to have someone as president of the United States who understands the gaming industry and ran a casino? Absolutely it will,” Blalock said.
The casino industry would benefit from fewer regulations on businesses that would reduce their costs and can run tens of millions of dollars. He said Trump would use executive orders and repeal administrative acts by regulators, but some regulations are so ingrained it would take legislation, Blalock said.
The biggest concern was over rules making it easier for employees to collect overtime, Blalock said.
Observers said some of the more conservative members of Congress, especially from Southern states, have retired or lost in recent years, and that has reduced some of the opposition to gaming.
Blalock said there’s more of a cultural acceptance of gaming, because today it’s in 40 states and a $240-billion-a-year industry that impacts thousands of lives. That has meant elected officials have a different view as well, he said.
“There’s still a lot of education to be done,” Blalock said. “There are a few members culturally to the right from the Deep South in very religiously prominent districts that have an aversion to it, but it’s a waning number.”
Steve Light, a professor of political science at the University of North Dakota who tracks the gaming industry, said the biggest impact Trump could have would be on Indian gaming, which was legalized at the federal level in 1988. That’s a $29 billion industry with 450 gaming operations across the country.
The head of the Interior Department and Bureau of Indian Affairs has had an impact, and during the Obama Administration, the rules on gaming loosened. Trump has shown to have views less supportive of Indian gaming and could roll back rules, he said.
Elmendorf said one of the biggest changes in the election is that Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the minority leader, will no longer serve in the Senate. He’s been a champion for the gaming industry and will be missed.
“It’s helpful to have champions, particularly for those in important places like he has been for a long time,” Elmendorf said.
Blalock said the industry has done a good job of not relying on one member as a savior and has several lawmakers interested in making sure gaming continues to thrive in an industry that employs 1.7 million.
“It expands beyond Harry Reid, but there is a lot of work to do,” Blalock said.
Elmendorf said since gambling regulations and laws are done at the state level, that remains an important point of focus in 2017 and beyond.
Blalock agreed that the states will bear close watching in 2017 and beyond because they have a shortfall of revenue from mandates handed down from the federal government. They need money for roads, health care and other needs, and that puts sports gaming at the forefront of their interest.