Sports Betting in the US: The next marijuana?

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Sports betting in the United States used to be synonymous with musty bars, the mafia, and the ruin of families. At the very least, that has been the picture painted by the political landscape and those with incentives on keeping tight restrictions over the sports betting industry, which has seen Nevada as the single largest beneficiary of antiquated federal legislation.

The ink has been dry on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”) for 23 years. While other first-world countries have seen billions in revenue generated toward their local economies, including thousands of jobs and advancements to industry, the US remains by and large opposed to the idea that its citizens are capable of betting responsibly.

Slowly but surely, the archaic and illogical beliefs of yesteryear are eroding. States that are cash-strapped are beginning to listen to their residents: Not only are most Americans in support of legal sports betting, the economic benefit is unquestionable.

New Jersey residents approved sports betting by a 2-to-1 margin in a voter referendum in November 2011. Governor Christie then signed legislation allowing sports betting in January 2012. The legal gauntlet of the NCAA and the major US professional sports leagues subsequently filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the state, arguing that legal sports betting in NJ would threaten the sanctity of their games. Apparently, uncontrollable gambling urges would cause millionaire athletes to throw games, and every referee would transform into versions of disgraced official Tim Donaghy.

We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue so we can build consensus,—US Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)


The legal dream team of the sports leagues didn’t have to argue vehemently. District Court judge Michael Shipp blocked NJ from moving forward, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the decision. New Jersey’s sports betting case has yet to be heard by the US Supreme Court, where republican Governor Christie and democrat State Senator Raymond Lesniak remain hopeful common sense will prevail.


New Jersey isn’t giving up on sports betting
Despite the prior setbacks, two new bills were introduced by New Jersey congressmen Frank Pallone and Frank LoBiondo that attack the situation from a different angle. Pallone’s bill (H.R. 457), titled the New Jersey Betting and Equal Treatment Act of 2015, would amend PASPA to exclude New Jersey from the prohibition.


The second bill (H.R. 416) and the one authored by LoBiondo, titled the Sports Gaming Opportunity Act of 2015, would implement a four year window allowing any state to issue sports betting licenses.


Each of these bills were submitted to the House Judiciary Committee this month and are pending. If New Jersey gets their ducks in a row this time, they will move to implement sports betting in their casinos and racetracks, despite the position of the federal government, just the same as is being done with respect to marijuana in other states.


Big Names Backing Sports Betting
It’s not just the politicians along the east coast of the US clamoring for legal sports betting, either. In one of the more high profile endorsements for a serious revisit on the federal position on sports betting, Arizona Senator John McCain stoked the flames in his interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC’s Rick Klein, calling for Congress to hold hearings on the subject.


"We need to have a talk with the American people, and we need to probably have hearings in Congress on the whole issue so we can build consensus,” stated McCain.


It doesn’t stop with McCain. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been an unexpected supporting voice in the calls for a legal, regulated sports betting climate, to the surprise of many. Silver has been outspoken on the subject, most eloquently with his New York Times op-ed where he wrote that 'Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports.'


However, to date the NBA’s actions (most of which predated Silver’s appointment), are still in line with the other professional sports leagues which oppose state regulation of sports betting. Silver’s support has been for changes to be made at the federal level. It remains to be seen if the NBA would stand down their legal fire-power the next time New Jersey penetrates the paint.


Sportsbook Review has reached out to the offices of congressmen Pallone and LoBiondo for comment on their respective bills, and will keep readers updated on developments.

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