US Supreme Court OKs sports betting

MIXED MESSAGES::Some states could start offering betting as early as this summer, while all four major leagues expressed fear that gambling could harm game integrity

AP, WASHINGTON

Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 16

The US Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for states to legalize betting on sports, breaking a longtime ban and creating a potential financial boon for states and the gambling industry. The first bets could be placed within weeks.

Despite opposition from the major sports leagues and the administration of US President Donald Trump, the high court struck down a federal law that had barred betting on sports in most states.

States that want to take advantage of the ruling will now generally have to pass legislation to allow sports books to open. Some, including New Jersey, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, have a head start.

Sports leagues had expressed concerns about any expansion of sports gambling. Their businesses could be badly harmed if people thought the outcome of games could be altered by someone who had wagered money on a certain result.

However, the ruling could also be seen as merely bringing an activity out of the shadows that many people already see as a mainstream hobby. Americans wager about US$150 billion on sports each year illegally, according to the American Gaming Association.

The law the justices struck down forbade state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions, and made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

Gambling on sports could quickly become widely available, with one research firm estimating that 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

States that have already laid the legal groundwork include New Jersey, where one racetrack said it would begin taking bets within two weeks.

Mississippi and West Virginia have also been preparing for sports betting, and gamblers there could be placing bets as early as this summer and certainly before the NFL season starts in September.

All four major US professional sports leagues and the NCAA had urged the court to uphold the federal law, saying a gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. They also said that with legal sports betting in the US, they would have to spend a lot more money monitoring betting patterns and investigating suspicious activity.

Sports gambling proponents said that the leagues already do that work and that legal sports betting would make enforcement easier than it is now, when most bets in the US are made illegally.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the MLB issued statements saying the “integrity” of their games would remain a priority, while representatives of the NHL, NFL and NCAA said they were reviewing the court’s decision.

Some saw other concerns, including for some gamblers.

The ruling “will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless steps are taken to minimize harm,” National Council on Problem Gambling board president Marlene Warner said.

The law the justices struck down was passed by Congress in 1992 and called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Ginsburg wrote for the three that when a portion of a law violates the constitution, the court “ordinarily engages in a salvage rather than a demolition operation,” preserving what it can.

Congress could try to step in again. Senator Orrin Hatch said he would soon introduce legislation to set national standards for sports betting, but it is unclear whether the rest of Congress will want to join him.