Tuesday, June 27, 2017 | 9:30 p.m.
Nevada gaming lawyers, lobbyists and handicappers applauded the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to hear a case against a law preventing legalizing sports gambling in New Jersey.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prohibited sports betting across the country, except for Nevada, Montana and Delaware. The law, passed in 1992, made an exemption for New Jersey too, if it offered sports betting within a year of the law’s passage. It failed to do so.
In recent years, New Jersey politicians changed their minds and began working to legalize sports betting, hoping it would help the state’s economy and gaming industry, which has recently struggled.
The Supreme Court decided to hear New Jersey’s challenge to a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that used the protection act as justification to kill a sports betting law Gov. Chris Christie approved in 2014.
“It’s another nail in the coffin of the failed ban on sports betting, which has created an unregulated $150 billion illegal market with no oversight for law enforcement and no accountability to regulators and no concern for the integrity of the games,” said Geoff Freeman of the American Gaming Association, which has made the legalization of sports betting its major legislative initiative.
Las Vegas-area bookmakers were also happy with the development. They aren’t worried about losing business to other states.
“People are already betting on sports across the country,” said Joe Asher, the CEO of William Hill, which has multiple Nevada locations. “They are just forced to do it illegally. In fact, I think Nevada will be a big winner when PASPA is gone because all of the major Nevada casino operators have operations in other states that will benefit, and what is good for Nevada’s big casino operators is good for Nevada.”
Added veteran bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro of South Point, “This is something long that is overdue.”
Freeman is hoping a decision either way will further his group’s push for a comprehensive law giving states a legal basis for regulating sports betting. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the fall.
“If PASPA falls, a couple of things could happen. One is, Congress could do nothing, which is the most likely thing,” said Gregory Gemignani, a gaming attorney with Dickinson Wright.
Freeman sidestepped the issue of whether Congress has the bandwidth for a sports betting debate and said a court decision could increase the chance of Congress holding hearings on issue, which is something the gaming association has been preparing for.
“We have been identifying people who will be potential champions,” Freeman said. “And you will see some unlikely congressional allies who realize we’re in a different day than in 1992 when PASPA was passed.”
However, Freeman said the association has mostly focused on working with stakeholders, including professional sports leagues, to build a unified front in the push for legalization. And that front still has at least one fairly large hole in it.
As late as March, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated publicly that the NFL does not support legalized sports betting. That’s even with one of Goodell’s teams, the Oakland Raiders, relocating to Las Vegas.
“If it falls, you’ll have two lobbying groups,” Gemignani said. “One will be people from the gaming side who say we should be able to take wagers on sports. And then we will have the flip side, led by the NCAA and I think the NFL, the only pro league adamantly opposed to sports wagering.”
“My gut feeling is if congress isn’t paralyzed (by other issues) and the NFL came around, you would see a new piece of legislation that would allow states to authorize sports wagering providing that whoever takes the bets has an agreement with whatever league is conducting the event,” he continued.
Vaccaro says this could the last chance to legalize sports betting in other states.
“I’ve been saying for the past couple of years if it does not happen in this cycle, in the next year or two, it will never happen,” he said. “This shot will make it or you won’t see it again in my lifetime.”
If for some reason the court decides it doesn’t need to address that issue, Gemignani said, it could also decide not to hear New Jersey’s appeal.
“It’s all speculative,” Gemignani said, “Let’s wait and see what the scheduling is like for the briefing and the oral arguments. First, certiorari (the legal term for the court’s decision to hear the case) can be granted and it can also be withdrawn. It’s not a guarantee the case will go all the way through.”