Finally, there is a breakthrough in New Jersey’s pursuit of legalized sports betting. But it’s not time to give Gov. Chris Christie a Gatorade bath just yet.
A long shot hit Tuesday, when the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear New Jersey’s appeal in a case that dates to 2012. The state has attempted to circumvent a federal ban on sports betting, with no luck in the courts until now.
In August 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia blocked New Jersey’s attempts to offer sports betting, and just one month ago, Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall recommended to the Supreme Court that it not hear the state’s appeal. Both decisions were widely considered major setbacks.
So the Supreme Court’s announcement Tuesday was a surprise and possibly the first big step toward lifting the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which has prohibited sports wagering outside of Nevada since 1992.
“Very few cases get granted certiorari by the Supreme Court, so I’m very optimistic,” Christie said. “This is a very good sign for sports betting having a future in New Jersey. I’m thrilled. We’re not declaring victory, but at least we’re in the game.”
Jimmy Vaccaro, a Las Vegas bookmaker since the 1970s, went to Washington, D.C. to speak on a panel hosted by the American Gaming Association last summer. (https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/sports-columns/matt-youmans/sports-betting-finally-hitting-faster-track-to-legalization/)The potential legalization of sports betting on a national level was a major topic, and through all the twists and turns, Vaccaro has remained cautiously optimistic about New Jersey’s efforts.
“We still have a long way to go,” Vaccaro said Tuesday from the South Point sports book. “People think it’s going to be an automatic, but it’s still not a slam dunk.”
The Supreme Court is expected to hear New Jersey’s case late this year, with a decision coming by next spring or summer.
The American Gaming Association recently announced the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition, a diverse group of law enforcement officials, states rights' advocates, policymakers and industry leaders aiming to get PASPA repealed.
The AGA released a statement that read in part: “We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case. We are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”
AGA president Geoff Freeman said, “Today’s decision, despite the eventual outcome in the court, is another nail in the coffin of the failed federal prohibition of sports betting.”
Seven states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, South Carolina, New York, Maryland, West Virginia and Connecticut — have introduced sports betting bills in 2017 despite federal prohibition.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s influence is undeniable. Silver wrote a groundbreaking 2014 opinion piece for The New York Times in which he became the first major commissioner to come out in support of legalized sports betting. Silver favors federal oversight of sports betting instead of individual state regulations.
The landscape is shifting on several levels. The NHL awarding an expansion team to Las Vegas and the NFL voting to allow the Raiders to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas were significant developments in the pro leagues’ acceptance of sports betting. (https://www.vsin.com/las-vegas-overcoming-obstacles-emerging-as-major-league-city/)
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred promoted Las Vegas as a viable baseball city this spring and said, “We are reexamining our stance on gambling.”
After denouncing legalized sports betting for years, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has slowly changed his tune. (https://www.vsin.com/goodell-nfl-not-requesting-betting-ban-in-nevada/) A day after the Raiders’ move was approved, Goodell said of sports wagering in Las Vegas, “You have the regulatory environment there, which actually will be beneficial.”
The sports wagering handle in Nevada was projected to approach $5 billion in 2016 (https://www.reviewjournal.com/sports/sports-columns/matt-youmans/nevada-sports-betting-could-be-a-5-billion-industry/), but that’s a miniscule amount in comparison to the estimated $150 billion bet each year through illegal bookmakers.
“Regulated sports betting is what fans want and sports integrity demands,” Freeman said.
A number of Nevada bookmakers are in position to help integrate and regulate sports betting if it is legalized under a federal framework.
Never has legalized sports betting on a national level seemed so close to becoming a reality. It could happen as soon as 2018. Or the Supreme Court could shoot down the appeal, and at some point Congress probably will get involved.
Each story is a game within a long series, and New Jersey finally won a game.
“If it doesn’t happen this time,” Vaccaro said, “forget about it.”