By the middle of next year, states could have the right to legalize sports betting.
By the middle of next year, states could have the right to legalize sports betting.
Photo by Joel Kramer (via Flickr creative commons)

Supreme Court Hears Arguments To Allow States To Legalize Sports Betting

For as far back as there have been sports, there has been sports betting, in some share or form. In the United States, legal sports betting has largely existed exclusively within the borders of Nevada (save the random sports lottery cards available in a scant few other states). Nevada is, in fact, the only state that allows legal sports betting on individual sporting events.

The key word, of course, is "legal" because the underground sports books have existed since before the industrial revolution, and the internet has made illegal sports wagering far more prevalent, far more readily available, and some would argue far more acceptable and mainstream in 2017.

It's estimated that somewhere around $400 billion is wagered illegally underground and/or online on an annual basis in the United States, and it's the desire for access to that potentially taxable revenue stream that is ostensibly the driving force behind New Jersey governor Chris Christie's argument before the Supreme Court on Monday in the court case "Christie vs. the NCAA," in which Christie seeks to gain the allowance for states to decide their own laws on sports betting.

If Christie is able to win the case, it could have wide ranging sports betting ramifications that may extend as far as Texas, and "big picture" lawmaking ramifications that impact all 50 states. Here are the "need to know" elements of a court case that has intense focus from someone like, say, ME that writes a "Best Bets" column each week during the football season:

What exactly does the current law say about sports betting, and why can we only place legal sports bets in Nevada?
The framework for the current law was put in place back in 1992 and is called PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992), and stated that sports betting on individual sporting events would only be allowed in the state of Nevada (where it was already being conducted legally at the time) and protected sports lotteries in Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. Under PASPA, sports betting is considered illegal in all other states.

What is Christie's argument?
Christie's argument is that PASPA is a direct infringement on states' rights to implement their own legal policies, that states should be allowed to determine on their own whether or not sports betting should be legal. This court case comes on the heels of two attempts by Christie to legalize sports betting in the state of New Jersey. In 2011, New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting at racetracks and casinos, and in 2012, Christie signed off on the law to implement the change. However, the state was sued in court over the change in law, and it was squashed. Two years later, the state tried to repeal the ban on sports betting, which, in effect, led us to where we are currently, with the argument now escalating all the way up to the Supreme Court.

How do the sports leagues and the NCAA feel about Christie's argument?
The mere fact that they are opposing Christie in court would indicate that they are against sports betting, and luminaries from all of the professional leagues and collegiate sports leaders have expressed concern over the legalization of sports betting somehow impacting the integrity of their respective sports.

That said, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has softened the stated stance of his league in recent years, and advocated for the regulation of sports betting. Also, there are owners in each of the professional leagues who have blessed daily fantasy sports, a definite form of gambling, by taking them on as sponsors in their stadiums. There are even some owners who actually have ownership interests in companies like Fanduel and DraftKings.

The argument that legalizing sports betting would somehow affect the integrity of sporting events fails to hold water when you consider (a) the existence of sports betting already in so many illegal forms in the country (and no major integrity issues that we know of), (b) the regulatory oversight that would come with legalizing sports betting, and (c) the lack of integrity issues on sporting events in countries like England, where legal sports betting is available on virtually every street corner.

What are the non-sports betting ramifications if Christie wins his argument?
Currently, New Jersey is backed by at least 18 states (one of which is Texas), as well as the National Governors Association, and the contention of these states is that upholding a federal law like the one on sports betting could have a ripple effect that would limit the states' lawmaking independence on future issues like gun control, drug regulation, physician-assisted suicide, or self-driving cars. In short, their belief and argument is that there is more at stake than just the ability to legalize sports betting.

So how did it go yesterday for Christie?
Reports are that the court was very receptive to the arguments made by Christie's attorneys:

He wouldn't lay odds, but Gov. Chris Christie was upbeat Monday about the state's chances of being able to legalize sports betting after he had a front-row seat to more than an hour of arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I thought the hearing went great," Christie said outside the courthouse. "We're going to do well."

One New Jersey state senator, Raymond Lesniak (D-Union County) went as far as to predict that the state would win its case by a 6-3 or 72 margin.

What is the timeframe for resolution of the case, and what would it mean in Texas?
The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling by June 2018, at the latest, and Christie contends his state would be up and running with sports wagering operations within two weeks of the ruling. A favorable ruling for the states would mean Texas could enact legislation legalizing sports wagering, which if it were to happen, would be a fascinating (and gigantic) step toward more mainstream acceptance of gaming in our state, as right now, Houstonians have to drive over two hours to play a legal game of blackjack or roulette, let alone place a wager on the Texans or Rockets.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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