Sports betting lives! Or not. New Jersey will get some indication a week from now, as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce June 26 whether it will hear the state's appeal.
This case has been in extra innings since 2011, when two-thirds of N.J. voters approved sports betting in a referendum. Actually, the issue of whether New Jersey can offer (and tax and regulate) legal sports betting goes back to the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — and the 1993 gubernatorial race.
The federal law limited sports betting to the four states that had previously offered it (Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon). But it gave New Jersey a year to enact legal sports betting. That seemed like a shoo-in — until Republican leaders in the Assembly let a referendum die in the summer of 1993. Republican Christie Whitman was in a tight race against Democratic incumbent Gov. Jim Florio, and the GOP feared that putting sports betting on the ballot that year would increase Democratic turnout in November. The opportunity was lost.
But there was no doubt then, and there is no doubt now, that allowing New Jersey racetracks and casinos to offer legal sports betting would help both of these struggling industries. There is also no doubt that the opposition to New Jersey’s efforts by the NCAA and the professional sports leagues is based on hypocritical sanctimony.
Atlantic City casinos can certainly use the additional gaming revenue sports betting would provide. But if New Jersey wins this case, sports betting likely will be available everywhere. The biggest presumed benefit for the casinos is the nongaming revenue that sports betting would generate by attracting people to Atlantic City events keyed to major sports contests.
As for the state’s struggling horse tracks … well, they’ll take anything they can get. Indeed, Monmouth Park already has a sports bar that looks remarkably like a Las Vegas sports book. It could open in an instant if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case and New Jersey ultimately prevails.
The court case centers on complicated legal issues involving fair commerce, the Constitution and states’ rights. But one thing the case should not center on is the “danger” of sports betting. Please. Illegal sports betting is rampant. The American Gaming Association estimates that March Madness generated more than $10 billion in bets this year, 97 percent of it illegally. And no one is calling into question the integrity of any of those games or athletes.
If the Supreme Court won’t act, Congress should simply repeal the 1992 sports-betting ban. Fact is, allowing some states but not others to offer legal sports betting, while ignoring the pervasiveness of illegal sports betting, is neither fair nor reasonable.