(Reuters) - National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver called on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would let states legalize and regulate sports betting across the United States, in an op-ed published by the New York Times on Thursday.
The editorial - written by the man who runs one of the world's most popular and valuable sports leagues - comes just weeks after a federal judge temporarily blocked a recently signed New Jersey law that would allow wagering on sports events at state-licensed casinos and racetracks.
Silver said there was a widespread desire among sports fans to bet on games, fueling an underground gambling economy that by some estimates draws $400 billion in the country annually.
"I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated," he wrote.
Previous attempts to widen the spread of sports betting have been strongly resisted by U.S. sports bodies, who feared it could lead to cheating and distortion of athletic competition.
"Let me be clear: Any new approach must ensure the integrity of the game," Silver said in his article.
Silver pointed to examples of gambling on sporting events outside the United States, highlighting Britain where bets can be placed on smartphones, at stadiums, and through the television, he said.
Though Silver urged that any law should include regulations including age-verification tools, measures to identify and ban people with gambling addictions, among other restrictions.
The NBA and other sports leagues filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey gambling bill days before the hold was announced, arguing that it would cause irreparable harm and violated a federal law that bans sports betting in all but four U.S. states.
"Without a comprehensive federal solution, state measures such as New Jersey's recent initiative will be both unlawful and bad public policy," he wrote.
New Jersey officials hoped that legalized sports wagering would generate more revenue for Atlantic City's gambling industry, which has lost customers to a spate of new casinos opening in nearby states.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Toby Chopra