The possibility that the United States Supreme Court will rule in just a few weeks on the legality or continuing illegality of sports betting in the US continues to inform debate. The immediate case stems from a New Jersey law that permits sports betting in that state but which contradicts a law that was passed by the United States Congress in 1992.
That law is the Professional and Amateur Protection Act or PASPA in which sports betting in the US was made illegal except for the four states where it was already legal at the time the law was passed. New Jersey is challenging the constitutionality of PASPA. The Supreme Court will rule whether the commerce clause of the US constitution gave Congress the authority to pass PASPA or not.
If the court decides that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority in passing PASPA, it will open the way for every other state to legalize and regulate sports betting under its jurisdiction. But the issue will not be completely settled even if the court decides in favor of New Jersey.
And then What?
There are still many state legislatures that oppose sports betting in their jurisdiction. The idea is that it’s a far cry to allow online casino gaming which runs the gamut from a casino offering free slots to running a multi-million dollar progressive jackpot in slots, and allowing betting on professional and amateur sports.
Online casino games are self-contained entertainments. Players win or lose and the casino has no say whatsoever in the outcome of any single game because all outcomes are independently determined by a random number generator. Those opposed to allowing sports betting claim that even if states have the authority to do so under the national constitution, they shouldn’t legalize sports betting because sports are an open-ended activity.
The experience in baseball, where the famous Pete Rose was found to have placed bets on his own team, has been cited often as proof that the money involved presents too great an incentive to people connected with sports, especially amateur sports, to try to rig games and reap the benefits from their own betting activity.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has long expressed its opposition to allowing sports betting on games played by amateurs. Although the most obvious risk is that professional gamblers will convince players to throw games or play just poorly enough to not cover the spread, the more relevant risk is with coaches.
Coaches are professionals, unlike their players. A coach can easily hide his or her effort to “lose” either a game or to the spread by developing an inferior game plan, calling the wrong plays, or making inappropriate substitutions. In some games, there are no more than a small handful of plays that actually determine the outcome of the game so a coach can use those to his advantage. Players, on the other hand, have to actually play poorly to affect the outcome for the benefit of unscrupulous gamblers.
Legal and Undesirable
Many opponents of sports betting are also opposed to other forms of gambling in their states. The case before the court is about whether a state has the authority under the constitution to enact laws legalizing sports betting in its jurisdiction. The case is not about whether a state should actually do so. Many people across the United States say that sports betting is undesirable even if the Supreme Court clears a path for states to legalize it.
An indication of how sports betting may expand into other areas is seen in the news from the American state of West Virginia where rapidly rising health care costs has led teachers and other workers in the state education system to threaten a general strike. The state legislature has just passed a law directing revenue from sports betting to offset shortfalls in the health insurance plan enjoyed by school system employees.
This law anticipates that the Supreme Court will void PASPA, thus giving West Virginia and all other states the freedom to allow sports betting and to use revenues from same to fund any cause deemed worthwhile.
Although Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have in the past expressed their opposition to sports betting on games in their sports, they have now discovered that the income from sports betting has the potential to enrich them. Thus, the NBA and MLB have announced their willingness to push the Supreme Court to allow sports betting in return for 1% of all revenues generated by legal sports betting on their games.
Opponents have expressed their opinion that this proposal by two prominent professional sports enterprises clearly indicates the massive potential for the abuse of sports betting. Proponents claim that another large source of income for sports teams may allow them to lower ticket prices.
The debate has reached the county level as a county legislator from Ohio, Shawn Fluharty, vociferously argued that the 1% “integrity fee” proposed by MLB and the NBA is in her words “a joke” by which she did not mean that she saw any humor in it.
Debate to Rage On
Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it is clear that the future of sports betting will be debated in the aftermath of the decision. Many see so much danger to the integrity of sports in the US at both the amateur and professional levels that they are encouraging the court to rule in favor of keeping PASPA on the books even if technically Congress had no authority to pass the law in the first place.