Get ready to go all-in on your degeneracy, lads, because legal sports betting is coming to a city near you. Yes, you’ll soon no longer need to fly to Vegas, visit a shady website based in the Caymans or call some husky gent who goes by “The Duke” to lay down a bet, because yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled a federal statute outlawing sports betting unconstitutional.
But don’t rush to wager Little Junior’s college fund just yet, because “soon” is a relative term here. While the Supreme Court decision opens up the possibility for widespread sports gambling, there are still a host of legal and political obstacles that stand in the way of you and your local sports book.
Okay then, what happened exactly?
The Supreme Court, the branch of government tasked with determining the constitutionality of our nation’s laws, ruled early Monday morning that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which effectively bans commercial sports betting in most of the U.S., is unconstitutional. The vote was 6–3 in favor of overturning the law, with Justice Samuel Alito delivering the majority opinion.
Not that I mind, but why was the Supreme Court ruling on such a thing in the first place?
It does seem odd that the highest judicial authority in the country would rule on something that involves frat bros betting their tuition money on obscure NCAA basketball games. But the case was one of legitimate constitutional interest (more on that later).
Formally known as Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the case originated when the state of New Jersey tried to legalize sports gambling at struggling Atlantic City casinos in 2012 and 2014. Both times, the four major sports leagues and the NCAA immediately challenged the law, saying it ran afoul of the federal statute. But New Jersey pushed back in 2014 and appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, which handed down its decision on Monday.
Woo-hoo! Where do I go to place my wager?
Not so fast, my friend. The Supreme Court ruling merely removes the nationwide ban, and allows for states to institute their own legal framework for sports betting.
Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. Right?
Lol, welcome to the bureaucratic process of state politics! You gotta wait on your state legislature to agree on a set of regulations for sports gambling, pass a bill for it and have the governor sign it into law.
So, uh, when is that gonna happen?
Well, is your state a morally and fiscally bankrupt shithole run by an endless succession of crooked politicians, who make an equally endless number of short-sighted policy decisions sure to fuck over taxpayers for generations to come, and therefore, is in desperate need of a new revenue stream — like, say, I don’t know, my home state of Illinois? Then, reader, legal sports gambling might be coming to you in the near future!
If recreational marijuana is any barometer, states will likely impose a steep sin tax on all sports gambling action. And the more in debt a state — like, just to use a random example, Illinois, which is $137 billion in debt for its retirement plans alone — the more incentive they have to pass a sports betting bill.
The only state with fully legalized sports betting is Nevada, home to Las Vegas, the bastion of sports betting. Other states are in various stages of making sports betting legal. A handful (Connecticut, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia) have passed laws that allow for sports betting. And many other states introduced legal sports betting bills in 2017 and 2018 in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling. Here’s a handy tracker for where each state stands on the issue.
You might notice a discrepancy between the tracker and the embedded tweet in regards to New York. A 2013 bill allowed sports betting at four upstate New York casinos, but current legislation would expand it to other locations.
Imagine a sports book in the heart of Times Square! (Sounds terrible and bleak, actually.)
Dude, just tell me when I can start betting!
Man, if you’re that impatient, you’re in for a tough time. Because even though some states have legalized sports betting, they still haven’t set up the regulatory framework for it. And that can be a drawn-out, Byzantine process. In New Jersey, for example, casinos and off-track betting sites can theoretically start accepting wagers on sporting events, but many have said they won’t take them until the regulations are clear and in place. So sit tight until then. Or hound your state legislator every day until a decision is made.
Does everyone agree this is a good thing?
Nope. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor ruled against reversing the sports betting ban. Justice Stephen Breyer agreed with the majority opinion in part, and the dissenting in part.
Law nerds can read the majority and dissenting opinions in full here, but the central disagreement is one of federalism, which is a fancy way of saying states vs. federal rights. The justices who ruled in favor of overturning the statute say laws about sports betting should be left to the states, whereas the dissenting justices argue that a wholesale reversal of the statute is an overcorrection. “The court wields an ax instead of using a scalpel to trim the statute,” Ginsburg writes in the dissenting opinion.
And we’re certain to see some family values politicians do moral grandstanding about the evils of gambling and its association with other vices, such as drunkenness and prostitution, and how legalizing sports betting represents the moral decay of our once-beautiful nation.
Fuck those guys, though! They’re full of shit!
Are there any broader implications?
Mobile app sports betting? It’s a distinct possibility, and the daily fantasy sports guys are already working on it.
Professional sports leagues and the NCAA have long distanced themselves from sports betting in the name of protecting the integrity of the game. (They didn’t want fans thinking players and coaches were throwing games or shaving points.) The NFL has been a particularly vocal opponent of sports betting, which is very rich considering arguably no other league has benefited more from sports betting. The NBA, though, has been more open to the idea. So it’ll be interesting how it and other leagues respond to the news in the coming months.
This is going to be a fucking nightmare for the NCAA, though. (Remember, it fought vehemently to have the federal ban upheld.) That ordinary people all over the country will soon be able to make money betting on NCAA football games doesn’t exactly help the NCAA’s argument that its athletes are unpaid amateurs and should remain that way.
Also of interest is how sports media will evolve. For years, sports reporters tended to not acknowledge the gambling implications of games, but that’s recently started to change. Scott Van Pelt openly talks about gambling lines during his SportsCenter broadcast each night, and Al Michaels makes coded references to the point spread on Sunday Night Football. All of that is going to be a lot more above board now, just like the gambling itself.
Also, expect a lot more insufferable, yet helpful, Darren Rovell takes.