Court Battles

Supreme Court decision on sports bets sets off scramble

Greg Nash

Lawmakers are scrambling to come up with legislation on sports gambling after the Supreme Court on Monday opened the door for states to legalize bets on sports nationwide.

The precedent-shattering decision came as little surprise after the justices hinted during oral arguments in December that they were likely to strike down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which banned sports gambling in almost every state but Nevada.

{mosads}Some sports leagues and business ventures had already begun taking steps ahead of Monday’s ruling to ready themselves for legal wagers on college and professional sports, which Eilers & Krejcik Gaming reported in 2017 could generate $7.1 billion to $15.8 billion a year in revenue if regulated in all 50 states.

Opinion polls suggest sports betting has gained acceptance, and more and more Americans are seeing the visibility of online sports betting companies in Europe, a shift likely to affect how lawmakers move forward.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of several original PASPA co-sponsors still in office, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), said he plans to introduce new sports gambling legislation in the coming weeks.

“The problems posed by sports betting are much the same as they were 25 years ago,” he said in a statement. “But the rapid rise of the Internet means that sports betting across state lines is now just a click away. We cannot allow this practice to proliferate amid uneven enforcement and a patchwork race to the regulatory bottom.”

Hatch is not planning on introducing legislation that would ban sports gambling, but is focused on safeguards.

“It will be up to each state to decide whether to legalize sports gambling and how to regulate it,” said Matt Whitlock, a spokesman for the senator. “But given that sports betting activity can now be conducted across state lines via the Internet, Senator Hatch believes we need to ensure there are some federal standards in place to ensure that state regulatory frameworks aren’t a race to the bottom.”

McConnell and Shelby didn’t immediately weigh in Monday on whether they believe Congress needs to pass new legislation following the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Trump administration unsuccessfully urged the Supreme Court not to take up the case and then submitted a brief asking for PASPA to be upheld. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in a statement said he’s “deeply concerned about the social ills that can arise from gambling.”

“At the same time, I have deep respect for the federalism principles that underlie today’s Supreme Court decision,” he said.

“The House Judiciary Committee will continue to examine the issue with an eye to striking the appropriate balance.”

Goodlatte did not respond to requests for comment about potential legislation regulating the industry or what decisions lawmakers might have to make in putting it together.

Any legislation enacting new regulations could have to pass through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is one of five senators who originally opposed PASPA.

Grassley hasn’t commented on Monday’s ruling, but his support could be crucial to getting new legislation onto the floor of the Senate.

Anticipating the court’s ruling Monday, 17 states across the country have begun considering measures to legalize sports betting, said Ethan Wilson, policy director of commerce and financial services at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In addition to New Jersey, he said lawmakers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi and New York have already passed sports gaming laws. Gambling officials in Mississippi said casinos in the state could be up and running to start accepting sports bets within 45 days, The Clarion-Ledger, a daily paper in Jackson, Miss., reported on Monday.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) is calling on Congress to consider his legislation allowing states to legalize sports and online gambling.

Under the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act, or GAME Act, states would have to meet certain baseline consumer protections such as licensing facilities, following age restrictions, collecting taxes and protecting against crime and compulsive play in allowing sports wagers.

Sports betting proponents argue PASPA pushed sports betting underground, creating an illegal market ripe for illicit activity.

“A regulated market is always better than an unregulated one,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) said in a statement. 

Titus said she plans to work with stakeholders and industry experts to help educate her colleagues in Congress about what the court’s ruling means for states and what they can learn from sports betting in Nevada.

“Allowing states and tribal sovereign governments to legalize sports betting could boost local economies, increase state revenues, and better protect both consumers and the industry, with Nevada showing the way,” she said.

The NCAA, NBA, NHL and NFL originally brought the case challenging New Jersey’s attempts to legalize sports betting in the state’s casinos and at racetracks in 2012.

But the positions of some of the sports leagues appear to have shifted in the intervening years, particularly with the rise of online daily fantasy leagues and inroads into the United States of European soccer leagues that advertise betting sites.

Though initially opposed to a legalized wagering scheme, the NBA eased its position in January and formally asked for new laws that would legalize sports gambling nationwide.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league remains in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it, but will remain active in discussions with legislatures.

NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy in a statement said the college athletic association is still reviewing the court’s decision to understand the overall implications for college sports.

“We will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court,” he said.

Opponents of state-sanctioned sports betting fear the court’s ruling will make it harder for Americans to pull themselves out of poverty.

“The American people lost $117 billion on state-sanctioned gambling in 2016, causing life-changing financial losses for millions of citizens,” said Les Bernal, national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, citing The Economist.

“It directly contributes to the lack of mobility out of poverty that traps so many. This serious national problem will be made far worse if the government is allowed to operate and advertise sports betting.”

Reid Wilson contributed.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Chuck Grassley Dina Titus Frank Pallone Jr. Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch Richard Shelby
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