As NC seeks to legalize sports betting, ex-NBA commissioner weighs in at Elon

Supreme Court lets states legalize sports betting in historic 6-3 decision

With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.
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With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.

When former NBA commissioner David Stern is asked about the potential impacts of sports betting on college sports, he chuckles and shakes his head, as if he already knew the question was coming.

Stern was the keynote speaker at a symposium at Elon Tuesday evening to discuss the impacts of legalizing sports betting, which North Carolina is in the process of doing. Stern said the risk of corruption is greater with college sports than with professional sports.

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2011, file photo, NBA Commissioner David Stern, center, speaks to the news media alongside Deputy commissioner Adam Silver after a marathon meeting with the Players Association in New York. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern believes medicinal marijuana use should be allowed, but the league says it won’t allow players to use it for recreational use. Adam Silver, who replaced Stern as commissioner in 2014, has said he is interested in studying more about the safety of medicinal marijuana. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) John Minchillo AP

“I think that college kids can be more easily influenced,” Stern said, referencing point-shaving scandals in college sports. “Especially in potentially corrupt cultures.”

Senate Bill 154 would allow casinos run by Native American tribes in North Carolina to offer betting on college and professional sports, as well as horse racing.

There are two casinos in North Carolina that will reap the bill’s benefits. Both are in the western part of the state and owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

A number of ACC states have been considering proposals to legalize sports wagering. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in the summer of 2018 that the conference would look into its potential impacts.

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham previously told The N&O that UNC opposes gambling on college sports.

Senate Bill 154 became possible in 2018 after a key U.S. Supreme Court decision, Murphy v. NCAA, which allows individual states to decide whether to legalize sports betting.

Stern said he was in favor of creating a uniform system regulated by the federal government with safeguards in place. He said he sees a lot of risks with states regulating their own programs.

“My biggest concern was that — it depends who the state or what agency the state puts in charge of it,” Stern said. “State by state is going to be challenging in terms of running it.”

Stern served as the NBA commissioner for 30 years before retiring in 2014. He is often credited with helping to increase the popularity of the NBA during the Michael Jordan era.

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Under Stern, the NBA dealt with a betting scandal of its own after the FBI discovered in 2007 that one its referees, Tim Donaghy, bet on NBA games.

Stern said he does not believe there will be an increase in scandals with the legalization of wagering on sports, but it remains a problem.

“Corruption is corruption,” Stern said. “It’s going to continue. ... Whether it’s legal betting or illegal betting, the risks are still the same. And I think the legalization of it, in some respects, is going to make the leagues more vigilant and more sensitive.”

Stern said sports betting will continue to change the way sports are consumed. Spreads will become more and more important, and as a result the scrutiny of players and officials will increase, he said.

“I think it’s great for business,” Stern said. “I think it has it’s risks and issues, but I think the league will get past it in a good way.”

Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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