Supreme Court OKs legal sports gambling
The Supreme Court this week struck down a federal law that had effectively banned sports betting in most states, clearing the way for an explosion of legalized gambling on professional and amateur sports. In a 6-3 vote, the court sided with a challenge brought by New Jersey, which had argued that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—from which Nevada was exempted—violated states’ rights to regulate activity within their borders. “A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. Casino stocks jumped following the ruling, and state lawmakers in New Jersey and elsewhere vowed to pass bills to regulate and tax legalized sports betting. Gaming industry experts estimate that Americans currently place at least $150 billion in illegal sports bets each year.
The NBA and the MLB immediately began pressing for a 1 percent cut of the action as an “integrity fee” to help them guard against corruption of players and referees. But critics warned that making it easy and legal to bet on popular sports could lead to a surge in gambling addiction, and demanded that Congress tax gaming revenues to pay for treatment. “We’ve opened up a real circus here,” said Arnie Wexler, a certified compulsive gambling counselor.
What the columnists said
This decision “will create far more winners than losers,” said Chris Smith in Forbes.com. Cash-hungry states will see their coffers swell—a recent study suggested legalized sports betting could generate $8.4 billion a year in new tax revenues. Individual franchises will become more valuable as interest in game results grows. And sports gambling “could be a lifeline” for TV networks that have seen viewership for live games slump in recent years even as they kept shelling out billions of dollars in rights fees. More viewers will stay tuned, because they’ll be “literally invested in the outcome of a game,” and ad money from betting firms is certain to flood in.
Sure, everybody wins—except the gamblers, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. New Jersey fought against the ban in part because it thinks sports gambling can revitalize Atlantic City. Well, I’ve been to Atlantic City, “and I found the place deeply depressing.” There are pawnshops around the corner from the casinos with signs reading “We Buy Wedding Rings.” Many sports fans will likely convince themselves that because sports are contests between humans of different abilities, picking a winner—unlike at the roulette wheel—is a matter of thoughtful analysis, not luck. Yet no amount of savvy can beat the house.
Personally, I’m not thrilled at the idea of standing in a stadium surrounded by “lunatics making in-game bets on their phones,” said Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal. And yet Europe legalized sports gambling years ago, and soccer fans there seem to enjoy the game just as much as ever. So the court’s ruling is “probably not the end of the world, nor the dawn of a brilliant new one.” It’ll be something in between. “At least that’s my bet. That, and the Celtics in 6.” ■