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Supreme Court strikes down sports betting ban

Spectators tune in to coverage of the NCAA

Spectators tune in to coverage of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate Superbook sports book in Las Vegas on March 15. The Supreme Court on Monday gave states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports. Credit: AP / John Locher

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law that bans gambling on sporting events in most states, giving New York and others the go-ahead to legalize betting on football, basketball, baseball and other sports.

Within hours of the court’s 6-3 decision, the political ground in New York began to shift. The Oneida Nation announced it would soon offer sports betting at its casino near Utica as well as other venues on its central New York land.

Meanwhile, key state lawmakers said they could vote on legalizing sports betting by June 20, the end of the legislative session. That could impact four upstate casinos as well as more venues.

“We can be betting on sports before the start of the NFL season,” said Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), chairman of the state Senate Racing and Wagering Committee.

Bonacic rejected Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s view that there wasn’t time to act before the State Legislature adjourned for the year, saying “other states will eat our lunch” if New York doesn’t move this year.

“I am confident that working together with my colleagues in both the Senate and Assembly, we can have a bill ready for governor’s signature by the end of the session,” Bonacic said.

The Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that barred sports gambling with some exceptions and made Nevada the lone state to allow wagers on the results of a single game.

That law had been challenged by New Jersey, which said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place. Nineteen other states supported New Jersey’s lawsuit.

On Monday, the nation’s top court sided with New Jersey too.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

The ruling could spark a flood of new gambling venues. More than 30 states could be expected to offer sports betting within five years of the federal ban being overturned, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, which tracks gambling trends, said in 2017.

The major sports leagues initially fought the ban, saying gambling could hurt the integrity of games. But many executives have softened on the issue over the years, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calling for a federal framework for sports betting legislation. He reiterated that call Monday but, failing that, said the league would continue to talk with state legislatures as they develop proposals.

The NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL haven’t gone as far as the NBA in supporting wagering. But they acknowledged Monday’s ruling dramatically changes the landscape. The NFL, like the NBA, called for Congress to act.

On the state level, a 2013 law that authorized four upstate, non-Indian-run casinos included a provision that would allow the operations to feature sports betting if the Supreme Court ever lifted the ban. But those casinos won’t be able to take sports bets immediately; the state Gaming Commission would have to implement regulations first. If New York wanted to expand beyond the four casinos, legislation would be needed.

Though the commission has been studying the issue, Bonacic said the panel doesn’t have the wherewithal to act quickly.

“It may be years before they would be finished,” he said, contending the legislature should take charge.

Assemb. James Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon), chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, also said he expected to have a bill for consideration by early June. He said he is still weighing tax rates to impose — for the state’s share of revenue — as well as the leagues’ royalty payment. He said he’s talked recently with NBA officials, as well as the Professional Golfers Association.

Despite the legislature’s moving ahead, Cuomo said Monday he’s had “no discussion” with them on the topic.

“Obviously, New York’s competitiveness is very important to us. We will review the ruling,” Cuomo said. “It’s an economic decision. How it would affect casinos? How it would affect the general public?”

The Oneida Nation, meanwhile, said it didn’t need to wait for state legislation.

“The Nation has made preparations to offer sports betting at venues throughout the Oneida reservation, and we will be putting those plans into operation in the near future,” Joel Barkin, Oneida Indian Nation vice president for communications, said in a statement. “We anticipate that sports betting at the Nation will create numerous new job opportunities at each of our casinos.”

With Michael Gormley

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