This OpEd, written by Gerald Benjamin, was originally published by the Albany Times Union. Full text here.
New Jersey has, against all odds, gotten the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to consider overturning the federal ban on sports betting. If the court does so, some think that allowing sports betting in New York still will require another amendment to the state constitution’s already eviscerated gambling prohibition. But this is not so.
Dramatic incidents of past corruption and fears of the effects of rigged outcomes on sports’ popularity and profitability led in 1992 to a federal ban on sports betting, based upon the national power to regulate interstate commerce. Professional leagues and collegiate associations and conferences were fully supportive. To avoid disrupting the status quo, when the bill was passed exceptions were allowed not only for Nevada — then and still the national sports betting mecca — but also Delaware, Oregon, and Montana, which had in place limited sports-related betting before 1991. (Oregon and Delaware have since forgone their sports–linked lotteries). Another provision envisioned an exception for New Jersey, but that state failed to act to take advantage of it.
As other states legalized casinos and Atlantic City faced intensified competition, New Jersey leaders had a change of heart. In a 2011 referendum, two-thirds of New Jersey voters supported a repeal of the state’s constitutional ban on sports betting in casinos and at racetracks. The next year, sports betting was decriminalized in New Jersey, and two years later authorizing legislation to permit it was passed. But suits by the major sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association blocked implementation.
Strong college-level support for a sports betting ban persists, but heads of the major professional leagues are rethinking the matter. Big money is at stake for increasingly strapped state governments. Estimates are notoriously problematic, but in New York City alone tens of billions of dollars are thought be illegally wagered annually on sporting events.