UFC backs betting expansion in U.S.

A second executive of a prominent professional sports league is publicly supporting expanded legalized sports betting in the United States.

UFC Executive Vice President and COO Lawrence Epstein told ESPN on Thursday that, with proper regulation, expanded legalized sports betting in the U.S. would benefit all sports.

"I think it will enhance the game as opposed to doing anything to hurt it," Epstein said. "Sports wagering done in a way, like Nevada, that is properly regulated will give more confidence to fans that games and fights aren't fixed."

Epstein's sentiments echoed those of NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who said Wednesday in an interview with Bleacher Report that wide-spread sports betting legalization in the U.S. is inevitable and a highly regulated market would aid the league in making sure the competition is "pure."

The NBA, along with the NCAA, NFL, NHL and MLB, is currently suing New Jersey to prevent the state's racetracks and casinos from offering legalized sports betting. In a request for a temporary restraining order, the leagues claimed they would suffer irreparable harm if New Jersey thoroughbred track Monmouth Park would be allowed to accept wagers on their games.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp granted the sports leagues a temporary restraining order in a hearing last week. At the end of last week's hearing, Shipp was asked by New Jersey counsel if the restraining order applied only to games of the leagues involved in the suit. After initial indecision, Shipp later wrote in his ruling: "The scope of the restraints is NOT limited to the games sponsored by the plaintiffs' leagues."

Granting protection from any perceived harm to sports leagues not involved in the suit was an eye-opener for several legal experts, who have been following the case closely.

"How can the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball or hockey claim irreparable harm from bets being made on soccer? They can't," Daniel Wallach, a gaming and sports law attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, said. "The leagues might win on the merits following summary judgment or a trial, but they can't get a preliminary injunction to ban New Jersey from taking action on boxing, MMA and soccer."

Dan Etna, a New Jersey resident and partner in the sports law practice at Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said he also found Shipp's inclusion of all sports leagues in the restraining order unusual.

"I found it interesting that he used such a broad brush in applying equitable relief," Etna said.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) bans state-sponsored sports betting on all sports, except for jai alai and parimutuel horse and dog racing, in all but four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. New Jersey has passed sports betting legislation, the 2014 Sports Wagering Act, which it believes does not violate PASPA.

Dennis Drazin, a New Jersey attorney who operates Monmouth Park, said the track would be interested in offering bets on sports like mixed martial arts, soccer, auto racing, tennis and golf, but wanted to clear it with the court first. Drazin said the issue would be readdressed when the case continues Nov. 20 with oral arguments in front of Shipp in Trenton, New Jersey.

The UFC, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, says it would have no problem with legal bets being placed on its fights in New Jersey.

UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta also own part of Station Casinos in Nevada.

"To the extent that there's nothing illegal about taking bets on UFC in the state of New Jersey, we'd be absolutely fine with it," Epstein said.

The ATP, which holds tennis tournaments in 31 countries, deals with varying international gambling laws.

"We respect the right of local governments to determine legislation in this area as they see fit," the ATP said in a statement to ESPN.

The PGA Tour declined to comment. NASCAR and MLS did not provide responses, when asked if they'd be OK with New Jersey taking bets on their events.

If Monmouth Park were to get the OK from Shipp to accept bets on sports other than football, basketball, baseball and hockey, the sportsbook would be looking at much smaller revenue. In 2013, Nevada sportsbooks won on $13.7 million combined off of soccer, mixed martial arts, golf, tennis, auto racing and other sports lumped into the "other" category in Nevada Gaming Control revenue reports. In comparison, the sportsbooks won $80.8 million on NFL and college football in 2013.

"Not only would they have lighter handle, but some of those sports are tough to beat," John Avello, executive director of the Wynn race and sportsbook, said. "You have a lot of big favorites in UFC, and there are always specialists on things like tennis that can really ding you if you're not careful."

The U.S. branch of English sportsbook William Hill is signed on to provide sports betting at Monmouth Park and is watching closely.

Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US in Nevada, didn't want to speculate about the feasibility of running a successful sportsbook without taking bets on major professional and college sports, but is paying close attention to how the case plays out and will be attendance for the Nov. 20 hearing.

"Whatever we do is going to be compliant with the law," Asher said. "Our view is that legalized sports betting in New Jersey is inevitable, and it's a matter of when, not if. But there's obviously more court hearings to be had before any bets can be taken at Monmouth Park."

The temporary restraining order preventing Monmouth Park from opening it sports book expires Nov. 21.