International edition
June 20, 2019

Interview with Jennifer Roberts, Associate Director, International Center for Gaming Regulation, UNLV

"I don't see how federal sports betting regulation would be better"

Jennifer Roberts on sports betting regulation: "It will be interesting to see how Tennessee manages a mobile-only platform with patron disputes, audits, enforcement, responsible gambling measures, etc."
United States | 06/06/2019

After his participation in three panels of the 17th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking last week in Las Vegas, Robert tells Yogonet that US federal government already has the resources and ability to investigative against sports corruption. About Monday's New Hampshire ruling on the Wire Act, she says the limiting factor is that it is one court in one circuit court district, "so now it is another wait and see on how the Department of Justice will respond."

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he University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute’s (IGI) 17th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking (ICGRT) was held across May 27-30 at Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. This event is held every three years, hosted more than 300 presenters alone and specially focused on sports betting and daily fantasy sports, particularly as they relate to policy, regulation, consumer protection, and problem gambling.

One of the speakers was Jennifer Roberts, the Associate Director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at the UNLV. She has practiced gaming law in Nevada since 2003 and was previously a partner in the law firm of Duane Morris LLP. Prior to that, she was a shareholder in the Gaming & Regulatory Department of the Nevada-based law firm of Lionel Sawyer & Collins.  Her legal practice included representation of clients in gaming law, including gaming licensing, gaming compliance, and gaming law development.

Last week, Roberts was part of three different panels. The first one was a primer on sports betting: “There is a lot of information out there on sports betting and I wanted to give attendees an overview of some of the key issues, such as volatility and margins in sports betting, betting integrity, and types of wagers,” she tells Yogonet.

Also, she participated in a discussion on the intersection between gambling and cannabis.  “There were three different perspectives represented — researcher; legal; and industry member. There are challenges with any crossover and catering to tourists in a market that prohibits consumption of cannabis in casino hotels and public areas,” she adds.

Finally, Roberts had a discussion on the Wire Act and implications for the industry under the 2018/19 opinion from the Department of Justice. The panel was prior to the New Hampshire court opinion, which added some additional support that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting, instead of other forms of gambling: “We are now on pause to see whether the Department of Justice appeals the court's decision.

What further learnings could you acquire during the conference, and what practical effects do you consider it may have on the debate over US sports betting regulations?

There were some important discussions on preventing gambling harms, including discussion by representatives from the UK Gambling Commission and Gambling Court. There was a lot of international perspectives on gambling at the conference, which is helpful for comparative analysis and ultimately developing best practices.

A recent Morgan Stanley research suggested US sports betting should be more online than onground, since the US market size will be driven by online availability, and states that want tax revenue are recognizing this. How do you think land-based and online sports wagering proportions should converge in order to optimize the business for all stakeholders?

One approach is to connect land-based casinos with mobile platforms. This would include developing sportsbook areas for people to socialize and watch games. One approach, which I understand is often criticized, is to require in-person registration for mobile platform. I can see both sides to this argument. In New Jersey, it might be more challenging with casinos located in one part of the state and only a few racetracks. Whereas, in Illinois, you have casinos more spread throughout the state and it may be easier to access than one area (at least for some). It will be interesting to see how Tennessee manages a mobile-only platform with patron disputes, audits, enforcement, responsible gambling measures, betting integrity oversight, etc.

Fox Corporation, Walt Disney - ESPN, Sinclair and fuboTV have recently taken steps towards sports betting business. What’s your personal view on this trend, and what are your prospects this could open for the industry, the audiences and further regulations as well?

With expanded sports betting, there becomes increased fan engagement and opportunities for connecting to an additional customer base. It makes sense from a commercial perspective, but, in my personal opinion, I would appreciate that it does not overwhelm the sport. I'm a sports fan aside from any betting and I want sports to just be sports and betting is an added entertainment feature. I don't want to hear constant messaging about betting over good analysis of the competition. We should also pay attention to what is happening in Europe with greater restrictions on advertising and sponsorships.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern recently said he backs a federal sports betting regulation, as he sees several risks with states regulating their own programs. What’s your personal stand regarding this possibility and why?

The federal government does not have experience in regulating gambling. They have established frameworks in some circumstances — tribal gambling, horse racing — but have ultimately left it to states. I've really not heard any persuasive arguments on why federal regulation would be better. For example, one of the arguments is that the federal government would help protect sports integrity. Really? They already have the resources and ability to investigative against sports corruption. State operators and regulators will involve the FBI if they see unusual patterns, transactions, or concerns. I don't see how federal government regulation would add anything new to what they already do.  

New Hampshire Lottery says the DoJ’s opinion is unenforceable since it doesn’t make sense in the context of PASPA’s repeal. DoJ suggested the Wire Act makes all forms of online gambling across state lines illegal, except lotteries. What do you take from these stands, and what are your prospects for this federal prohibition effective June 14?

Now we see the New Hampshire court decision. The limiting factor is that it is one court in one circuit court district, so now it is another wait and see on how the Department of Justice will respond. However, it does provide further legal support for a rational position that the Wire Act governs sports betting.

AGA’s new "Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering" brings self-imposed restrictions on target audiences, outlets and materials branding, while mandating responsible gaming inclusion. What practical contributions and results do you think it will bring to the industry?

Similar to the alcohol industry, the gambling industry created a self-regulatory code of conduct for marketing and advertising. It was a good proactive approach, especially in light of what is happening in Europe.

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