The United States Supreme Court will hear a case this week that could alter the future of sports betting. The court will decide whether a federal law that prohibits states from legalizing sports gambling is constitutional.
Growing up in Nevada, I didn’t even realize betting on sports was illegal. I would walk through casinos on Sundays to the movie theater, arcade or bowling alley (coughing up a lung on the way through plumes of smoke) and see bunches of thick men drinking beer and swearing at television screens that showed football.
I thought you could do this anywhere, but it turns out betting on a sports game is only legal in Nevada. However, it’s also true that sports fans throughout the rest of the country bet on sports anyway online, illegally. Sports betting in the United States is an estimated $150 billion industry. That’s more than Verizon, Honda and General Electric are worth. Betting on sports is more profitable than the sports leagues themselves.
So, why is this even a question if so many people are already doing it and it’s so profitable? In 1992 the Federal Government passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) which said no government entity may authorize wagering on sporting events. The bill was sponsored by Senator Bill Bradley, a former professional basketball player who thought gambling was corrupting sports.
The state of New Jersey is challenging this law. Citizens of the state have voted to make gambling legal, and the state says PASPA is a violation of the 10th Amendment which says the Federal Government cannot limit states’ powers except those expressed in the Constitution. Many other states have thrown their support behind New Jersey and hope to legalize sports gambling in their own states, while the major sports leagues (NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) and those who profit from the current illegal sports betting system oppose New Jersey.
The issue that the Supreme Court will debate is one of states’ rights. Experts say that’s why the court took on the case in this first place. So, should the states be able to decide on their own to legalize sports gambling? I say yes, but not so much for the states’ rights issue (boring!) and more for the legal sports betting would be cool part.
It would make the sports themselves more popular. More people would bet on sports than they do now (I don’t think it’s like an underage drinking situation where high school kids only drink because it’s against the law). And people who bet on sports would watch more often and for longer periods of time. This would be better for everyone involved from leagues to networks who show football to the current legal sports betting hub, Las Vegas. If sports betting becomes a nationwide industry, Las Vegas could become the epicenter because it already has the infrastructure to support it.
The notion that gambling is bad for the integrity of sports is true. NBA referee Tim Donaghy said that he and his colleagues bet on games all the time, and their bets influenced the way they called a game. All the current PASPA law does is keep gambling in the dark. Legal sports betting would bring that issue to light. Betting would be regulated, and any inconsistencies would be obvious to those who watch out for games being thrown.
If sports betting is going to happen anyway we might as well make it legal and subject to the same rules and regulations as the rest of the business world.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Ryan Suppe studies journalism and philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @salsuppe