NBA Commissioner to Chris Christie: Join Me to Expand Sports Betting

PHOTO: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seen left in this Oct. 8, 2014 file photo and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, seen right in this Oct. 12, 2014 file photo. Getty Images
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, seen left in this Oct. 8, 2014 file photo and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, seen right in this Oct. 12, 2014 file photo.

With both powerful men calling for expanded legalized sports gambling, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is inviting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to join him in lobbying Congress to rewrite federal laws on the subject.

The NBA and the other major professional sports leagues are actually fighting New Jersey in court to enforce a federal ban on most sports betting outside of Nevada. That law has been in place for more than two decades.

But during an interview on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that also aired on the ESPN/ABC podcast “Capital Games,” Silver said that rather than fight New Jersey and other states, his league can work with them to establish a uniform federal structure that would acknowledge that sports gambling already takes place in many venues that are far from Las Vegas sports books.

“Governor Christie, and I'm happy to join him, should turn his attention to Washington, DC, to Congress, and say, ‘Here are all the reasons it should be regulated, but let's come up with a framework that makes sense on a national basis presumably that would allow states to opt in,’ ” Silver told ESPN’s Andy Katz.

Listen to the full episode of “Capital Games” HERE.

Silver broke with his fellow American sports commissioners last month by endorsing expanded legal sports gambling in a New York Times op-ed. He told Katz that his intention was to “break the ice” to have a real conversation on the subject.

“Whether it's ESPN with ‘Bracketology,’ whether it's all the [betting] lines in every national newspaper, on every Web service, my point was there's massive, massive sports betting going on in this country,” Silver said on “Capital Games.”

“Estimates are that it's up to $400 billion a year. And my view is, if it's going to go on, let's make it transparent, let's bring it into the sunlight, so to speak, and let's regulate it, the same way we do a lot of other industries,” he said.

Because of a 1992 federal law, most forms of betting on sporting events in the United States is only legal in Nevada. New Jersey is now fighting in federal court to dramatically expand sports betting at its Atlantic City casinos and its racetracks.

Next door in Delaware, officials have pushed up against the limits of the federal ban with a “sports lottery” that allows bets only on multiple NFL games on single tickets. The state lost a federal court case that’s roughly similar to New Jersey’s challenge before establishing the more limited betting system.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said on “Capital Games” that he’d like to go further, but realizes that the federal law stands in the way. He applauded Silver’s move for advancing the conversation.

“Having somebody like Adam Silver speak out is powerful, and I think it’s going to take folks like him … maybe that’s what it takes to move it,” said Markell, D-Del. “It could be brought into the mainstream economy, instead of money changing hands the way it does now.”

Markell said sales have roughly tripled in the four seasons where limited NFL betting has been legal in Delaware. The economic impact, he said, is even greater, given the uptick in floor traffic at the state’s betting establishments, and nearby shops and restaurants.

But even with Christie and Silver on board, Markell said, he’s not optimistic about the chances for Washington to make major changes.

“With all the unbelievable dysfunction in Washington, it’s sort of hard to see much happening. I’d be perfectly happy to be wrong,” Markell said.

He also laughed at the recent public attention given to the fact that Christie is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Sentiments in large swaths of both New Jersey and Delaware run more favorably toward the Cowboys’ archrival Philadelphia Eagles.

“I wouldn’t be wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey too much around Delaware,” Markell said.

Also on the podcast, we chatted with David Purdum of ESPN Chalk, which covers sports gambling, about the legal cases and possible momentum for change.

You can listen to the full episode of “Capital Games” HERE.

“Capital Games” is part of the ESPN Perspectives audio series, focusing on the intersection of sports and politics. It is co-hosted by ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC News’ Rick Klein, and it can be downloaded via iTunes or at