Published: December 3, 2023

‘There’s no limit’: Congressman Tonko’s solitary crusade to rein in sports betting

As Las Vegas prepares to host Super Bowl LVIII sports betting is preparing to celebrate its remarkable shift from the illegal fringes of American sports to the heart of its establishment. In Congress, one man is not cheering.

Congressman Paul Tonko fears the industry has already gone too far. "There’s no limit to this,” he told the Guardian. "You can’t have this wild west environment.” So far Tonko is a rare voice of dissent in Washington, another arena where the new gambling establishment is gaining ground.

The gambling capital of the world is playing host to one of its largest sporting events for the first time in February – less than six years after the supreme court set the stage for sports betting’s surge across much of the United States.

The transformation of official attitudes to online gambling has been head-spinning. Barely a dozen years ago, US authorities were still arresting and Jailing online gambling executives. Now, in most of America, placing a wager has never been so easy.

This now-legal sector’s sprint must be stopped, according to Tonko, who has become its fiercest critic on Capitol Hill. The congressman is calling for a federal crackdown to halt a "public health crisis” from engulfing the country – starting with a nationwide ban on advertising.

The crusade has so far been a solitary one. No other member of Congress has yet publicly endorsed his campaign against betting ads, launched nine months ago. But Tonko is not prepared to throw in the towel.

Over the course of an hour-long interview, the Democrat of New York let rip at a sector he believes must be reined in, accusing it of "preying on” the vulnerable, targeting ads at recovering addicts and putting "profits over people”.

Back in May 2018, when the US supreme court Struck Down A Decades-Old Law which had prohibited legal sports betting across much of the country, it knew the ruling would be divisive. Supporters of the ruling believed it would prompt a financial boon for states and "critically weaken” illegal platforms, Justice Samuel Alito Wrote in the court’s opinion. Opponents feared it would "hook the young on gambling” and corrupt professional and college sports.

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