Do not expect anything material to come out of the US sports betting hearing

Sports Betting Hearing In Congress Features Online Gambling Opponents

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Strap yourself in, because Thursday’s sports betting hearing in front of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations is going to be a doozy.

This is the same subcommittee that held an online gambling hearing (to discuss the Restoration of America’s Wire Act) not too long ago, and apparently they didn’t learn from that experience.

One of the five speakers on Thursday will be a repeat guest, Professor John Kindt from the University of Illinois. Kindt played a large role in sending the 2015 RAWA hearing completely off the rails.

One of the people joining Kindt is also anti-gambling (well, anti-online gambling): Jon Bruning, counselor for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG).

Bruning and Kindt will (unwittingly) do their best to make sure the 2018 sports hearing is as unproductive as the 2015 RAWA hearing.

The three other speakers at the hearing are the real experts:

  • Sara Slane, the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for the American Gaming Association
  • Becky Harris, Chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board
  • Jocelyn Moore, the Executive Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs for the National Football League

Here’s what you can expect from each witness and the hearing as a whole.

John Kindt

Let’s start with Kindt.

Kindt is going to throw bombs throughout the hearing. The good news is the committee members tend to tune him out once they realize he’s only there to demonize all forms of gambling (and fudge some facts and data along the way). Yet for some reason, Congress keeps inviting back.

Kindt’s bio should read, “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes.”

Kindt has a dubious reputation in research circles, with multiple groups and researchers finding his assertions so concerning they have debunked (here and here) them academically.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Let me back up my words with my words

He’s also fond of citing other official sounding reports to back up his claims, but he’s not so fond of mentioning that he is the author of those reports, as he did in a 2013 op-ed in Roll Call with the subdued title, “Internet Gambling Will Cripple World’s Economic, Financial Systems”:

Recent academic volumes of the multi-volume United States International Gambling Report even have titles reflecting the international economic realities. Specifically, the 2010 volume is alarmingly titled “The Gambling Threat to Economic and Financial Systems: Internet Gambling.” The title of the 2012 volume is even more alarming: “The Gambling Threat to National and Homeland Security: Internet Gambling.”

Both of the titles cited are of his creation, and he is the editor of the series.

Taking on Kindt

He repeatedly mischaracterizes academic research to fit his agenda. Kindt’s penchant to misrepresent research is so bad that the research National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) he so often cites decided to debunk four of his assertions back in 1999:

  1. Social costs: Kindt estimated the social cost of gambling at $80 billion a year. NGISC found the cost to be in the $5-6 billion range.
  2. Problem gambling costs: Kindt claims each problem gambler cost 10,000-$80,000 (that’s quite a spread) per year. NGISC concluded the cost was $900 per year per problem gambler.
  3. Social welfare costs: Kindt said casinos increase the social welfare cost to host communities. NGISC found a decrease in communities with casinos.
  4. Jobs: Kindt claims that every casino job results in one to two lost jobs in the market. NGSIC found that casinos lower unemployment rates.

Kindt still uses these debunked talking points to this day.

And now for something completely insane

Kindt also makes wild assertions ranging from adopting the policies of Chechnya and Russia by criminalizing all forms of gambling to implying the government should seize (or acquire in some other unsaid manner) casinos and turn them into something else.

The last point is so radical I feel I should quote directly from his 2006 Congressional testimony (he made similar remarks about tribal casinos in 2005 testimony):

“Socio-economic history demonstrates that the eventual strategic solution to U.S. and international gambling problems is to re-criminalize gambling and transform gambling facilities into educational and practical technology facilities.

Jon Bruning

Based on CSIG’s testimony at state-level online gambling hearings, Bruning, the CSIG representative, will play the role of Robin to Kindt’s Batman at the hearing.

Bruning, a former attorney general in Nebraska, has had a distinguished career. However, in his new role as a lobbyist, he’s somewhat over his head when it comes to gambling.

Bruning will likely try to steer the conversation towards online gambling at every possibility, and will almost certainly push the committee to consider adopting a version of the online gambling ban  that has been kicking around Congress for almost five years.

The problem is Bruning’s lobby firm (which often sends David Cookson to hearings) is armed with faulty logic and only has a top-level understanding of the issue. At previous hearings, CSIG representatives, including Cookson, often fumble through remarks and ramble when questioned.

The real hearing

Make no mistake about it, this hearing isn’t about prohibiting sports betting or any other form of gambling.

Thursday’s hearing has one mission: determine if the federal government should step in and somehow get involved with sports betting.

Harris will likely handle most of the salvos from Kindt and Bruning (with an assist from the AGA’s Slane).

Slane’s real purpose is to push back on some of the talking points of the NFL’s representative. Moore will layout the leagues’ case of needing to be involved directly with how sports betting is regulated.

What will come out of the hearing?

That question has a simple answer: nothing.

The same subcommittee (Democrats and Republicans) wanted no part of RAWA when then-Chairman Jason Chaffetz held his March 2015 online gambling hearing.

That hearing, along with virtually every other recent federal online gambling effort falls into the “make my political benefactor happy” category.

As Chris Grove mentioned on Twitter, Thursday’s hearing is almost certainly going to be more of the same:


- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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