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Volume 22 No. 27
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Lobbying firm advising unions on legislation

The respective unions representing the five major North American sports leagues are jointly working with a Washington lobbying firm to protect the rights of athletes as sports betting is legalized across the United States.

 

The MLB Players Association, the Major League Soccer Players Union, the National Basketball Players Association, the NFL Players Association and the NHL Players’ Association have been working with Signal Group as bills to legalize sports gambling move through state legislatures. The unions are sharing the costs of employing the firm, which is keeping tabs and reporting information back to the unions on the movement and important dates to legalize gambling. 

Signal Group Managing Director Rob Chamberlin has been working with the unions for about a year. “He tracks the legislation and then he works with us on coordinating whether we’re going to get involved, how we are going to get involved and what we are going to do,” said former MLBPA chief operating officer Kevin McGuinness, who has worked as a Washington lobbyist and is returning to private practice. “From our standpoint, players are going to be the face of sports gambling. They are going to bear the brunt of regulation, and if we want to really preserve the real integrity of our game, we have to make sure the legislatures address these realities as well.”

Legalized gambling has the potential to bring more fan interest and more dollars to team sports, but it also poses potential problems for players. McGuinness said there are four new issues or needs that must be addressed: 

Protecting players. 

A confidential system to report contact with gamblers.

A fair process to handle complaints of impropriety.

• Keeping personal player health data confidential. 

“It is going to be a different world where sports wagering is occurring right around — and now in — the facility,” McGuinness said. “It’s being promoted not just by the team and the league, but the state itself is going to be pushing people to bet. And now the reason you lost your bet is literally feet away from you.”

Bob Foose, the executive director of the MLSPU, said he has “significant concerns” that the leagues have not fully weighed the potential negative consequences that legalized gambling can have on society in general and players in particular. 

“There must be enhanced security protocols in MLS stadiums so players and their families feel safe from fans who may be unruly and losing bets just feet away,” Foose said.

Gambling has been an issue in soccer internationally for many years, Foose noted. “Elements of organized crime often bribe or threaten players, who make nothing or come from nothing, to fix matches or plays within a game,” he said. 

The NBPA also has concerns about player safety, particularly because NBA players are highly recognizable. When you mix money and lost bets, that has the potential for negative impacts, including allegations against players, said David Foster, NBPA deputy general counsel. 

“Complaints of cheating may also lead to threats of violence against players or their loved ones by those who truly believe that the games are being fixed,” Foster said. 

As sports betting becomes legal throughout the states, it will “undoubtedly increase the reputation, personal and professional risks that players face,” but athletes will be prohibited from direct financial participation in the new industry, Foster said. “Therefore, we are in the process of going to every state that is considering the legalization of gambling and asking that if they do legalize this industry within their state that a royalty fee paid by the betting operators to the NBPA is included in the legislation.” 

MLB players also want to share in the revenue, said Bruce Meyer, MLBPA chief negotiator. “There are two main focuses really … making sure that players are adequately protected in light of the new challenges they are going to face, whether that be from a security standpoint or a public standpoint,” he said. “But obviously, yes, we are exploring all potential avenues for players to benefit financially from it.”