By Chuck Parks, Editor

The Supreme Court has struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively prevented most states from legalizing sports betting, clearing up a legal gray area and opening a door for state governments to join in what has become a lucrative industry.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” the court wrote in a decision released Monday.

The law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed in 1992, prohibited sports betting, except in four states where it had already been legalized — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. It gave the other states one year to legalize such betting if they wanted to do so.

The ban on legalizing sports betting is also known as the Bradley Act, after its chief promoter, former basketball great Bill Bradley, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate. Bradley said his motivation was simple and personal. “Betting on sports was betting on human beings, and I thought that was wrong,” he explained. “It turns players into roulette chips. It makes the game, which is a game of high-level competition and excellence, into slot machines, and I don’t think that should be what we do in this country.”

The Supreme Court’s court decision reversing that outcome will make it easier to open the door to sports betting.

But the status quo struck down by the Supreme Court looks almost quaint in light of increased pressure to legalize sports betting across the board.

The American Gaming Association estimates that illegal sports betting has grown to $150-billion-a-year market. And cash-starved states are salivating at the thought of raising billions from legalizing and licensing that activity, not to mention taxing the proceeds.

New Jersey, home to at least a half-dozen shuttered Atlantic City casinos, is a state where Republicans and Democrats since 2011 have been trying to overturn the federal ban or somehow get around it.

After oral arguments in December, then-Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., said on the Supreme Court steps, “If we’re successful here, we can have bets being taken in New Jersey within two weeks of a decision by the court. We’re like boy scouts; we’re prepared.”

 

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