Sports betting ban under review by Supreme Court

Sports betting ban under review by Supreme Court

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Dec. 4 in a case that could determine the future of gambling nationwide.

The case, Christie v. NCAA, seeks to overturn a federal ban on sports gambling that has been in place since the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, also known as the Bradley Act because it was sponsored by Sen. Bill Bradley, a former basketball player who served three terms in the U.S. Senate.

Ted Olson, arguing for New Jersey, framed the issue as one of states-right versus federal control.

“New Jersey is being told it may not regulate in the way it chooses,” Olson said, adding that the state must “enforce a law and keep a law on the books” that it has attempted to repeal, therefore “the executive branch and the legislative branch of the state of New Jersey have been conscripted.”

Former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement and current deputy solicitor general Jeffrey Wall represented the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and several professional sports leagues before the court.

Clear policy

In response to Justice Stephen Breyer’s statement that “the federal government does not have a clear federal policy” on sports gambling, Clement contended that the federal law does outline a clear policy against sports gambling: It says “there’s something that is essentially a cancer on interstate commerce that we don’t want to take place.”

Clement said “the Congress wanted there to be, putting aside the grandfather clause, no state-sponsored or -operated gambling taking place by either individuals or by the state.”

Under the Bradley Act, four states — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon — were exempted from the law’s restrictions because of their history of licensed gambling.

Congress also added a special provision in the law that gave states with licensed casino gambling a one-year window of opportunity following enactment of the legislation to pass laws permitting sports wagering.

New Jersey, which legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City in 1976, did not act on the opportunity.

In 2011, New Jersey voters by a 2-to-1 margin approved a referendum to allow gambling on professional and college sports at the state’s casinos.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation to that effect in January 2012. The NCAA, along with the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey to prevent sports betting, based on the Bradley Act.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the athletic leagues and barred New Jersey from issuing sports betting licenses in 2013. That decision was upheld by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Christie then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

By some estimates, illegal betting is a $150-billion annual industry, and cash-starved states see gambling as a potential source of revenue.

But to lift the federal ban on gambling would be a mistake, said Mark Andrews, gambling chair for Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group.

‘Would be devastating’

“Just think of the implications,” he wrote in an email. “Open betting on sports events, blessed by state governments, would be devastating to our already suffering culture. Imagine the advertising and marketing aimed at young people that families would be faced with.”

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), agreed, which is why he signed on to an amicus brief filed by Stop Predatory Gambling. Godfrey serves on the board of directors of the organization.

The amicus brief points out how state-sanctioned gambling “uses unfair and deceptive marketing practices to target and prey on the financially desperate and the addicted, reduces opportunity for millions of American families to improve their economic standing and forces even those citizens who rarely or never gamble to foot the bill for the enormous social costs and state budget problems it leaves behind.”

Beyond gambling

The repercussions of this case could go beyond gambling. In an exchange between Olson and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Olson said evidence supports that “betting on sports is taking place all over the United States. Five percent of it is legal in Nevada. The rest of it is illegal. New Jersey decided we are going to look at it.”

Justice Sotomayor then asked “so why don’t we — why don’t we legalize — this is a hypothetical — marijuana … and all drugs, because there’s a rampant market out there for those drugs, but we’ve made a policy choice that we don’t want the state involved in promoting that type of enterprise. … Why is this any different?”

Olson acknowledged “that’s in play right now because various states have done various different things.”

A ruling in the case is expected next year.