The eyes of the sports gaming world will be on Atlantic City this week when the East Coast Gaming Congress opens Wednesday. Among those speaking will be New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy — the “Murphy” in Murphy vs. NCAA, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow legalized gambling on professional and amateur sports in any state.
The sports gambling world has been turned upside down in the year since that ruling neutralized a 1992 law enacted when Congress feared the integrity of the games could be questioned if they were connected to legalized gambling. As members of Congress then, we supported that law as we felt the risks of sports betting were too great. As sports betting has been globally accepted, we believe there must be safeguards and robust mechanisms in place — including the use of biometric technology — to prevent underage or problem gambling or any attempt to fix competition results. We believe it is incumbent on states with legalized sports gambling to insist that gaming operators, with the support of the professional leagues and the NCAA, participate in a “National Safety Exchange.” We have an opportunity now to put real consumer protections at the heart of this new system.
Before serving in Congress, one of us was a professional basketball player; the other had a spotty jump shot. We both appreciate that the speed of games has quickened and in lockstep, so has the pace of information about the games. Smartphones provide real-time information to fan’s fingertips. Betting is no longer focused on final scores. “Prop” betting addresses discrete events during the contests themselves. Fans can wager on how many points Joel Embiid will score in the first quarter, how many assists his teammate might have or even how long it will take to sing the national anthem. This makes it easier for individuals to influence betting line results and opens the door to corruption.
Many proponents say that professional athletes have too much to lose to gamble on their own games, but the same is not true for impressionable amateurs. The NCAA is rightfully fearful their players are potential targets. Of even greater concern is no one knows who is actually placing the bets. Through geolocation technology, states can ensure that phones facilitating bets are physically located within their state lines. However, no one knows who is using that phone. It could be a 12-year-old child, or a problem gambler who self-excluded to one gaming operator, but is relapsing on another. States who choose not to legalize sports gaming have equal concerns. Their proud university’s sports teams will still be found on wagering sheets placing the university athletic program and student-athletes at risk. Unless we are uploading betting information onto a national platform, officials will be unable to spot the trends, and it is almost inevitable major scandals will ensue.
This is where biometrics come into play. A recent study concludes that almost half of all sports bets are placed online. That is sure to skyrocket, as is the number of bets placed on mobile devices. So it is critical to know who is actually placing a bet online. A sports franchise might exclude every employee from gambling on its games, but doesn’t prevent him or her using a friend’s betting account to avoid detection. The same is true for underage gamblers, problem gamblers, and the very athletes themselves. Gaming operators, leagues and state officials want to do it right, and they can. The solution is to tie geolocation together with biometric identification of authorized users. Biometrics would be used to create a chain of trust, from the effective initial identification of users when being enrolled — using their voice, fingerprint or facial recognition they’re already using on their smartphones — to providing ongoing authentication of users at all stages of their interactions. This technology already has received widespread positive adoption by customers in other industries.
Biometric identification, together with geolocation and a national safety exchange platform, or Sports Integrity Bureau, is a safe and effective recipe for responsible parties to accommodate sports gaming in the digital age. It is the responsible way for gaming operators, leagues and state officials to demonstrate they are addressing a genuine vulnerability while allowing a growing industry to safely thrive. We have a great opportunity to do this right. Let’s take it.
Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. He is an adviser to Daon, a global biometrics company. Tom McMillen served three terms in Congress after an 11-year NBA career. He is CEO and president of LEAD1 Association, comprising 130 of the premier college athletic programs in the country.