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What the Supreme Court’s decision on sports betting means

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows states

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows states to legalize sports betting, which is already legal at sites like this casino in Las Vegas, seen here on Monday. Credit: AP / John Locher

ALBANY — The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned sports gambling outside of Nevada, opening up the possibility that bettors may soon be wagering on football, baseball and basketball games, and more — maybe even golf.

Here’s a look at what happened, the reaction and implications of a ruling that could dramatically change gambling, sports and states’ revenues:

What was the ruling?

In a 6-3 decision, the court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which essentially limited sports betting to Nevada. (Four other states have been offering “sports lotteries,” which involved sports, but didn’t allow betting on a single game, like, say, the Giants versus the Jets.)

So the court says sports betting is OK?

No, not directly. The legal basis for the ruling didn’t hinge on the act of gambling, but rather on the 10th Amendment, which defines the relationship between the federal and state governments. The court said the 1992 ban violated the “commandeering clause” of the amendment, which says that while Congress can pre-empt the states from taking certain actions, it can’t order the states to take certain actions. In this case, the court said the 1992 law ordered states to take actions to prohibit sports betting.

(As an aside, the commandeering clause is why, say, the Trump administration can order federal immigration officers to arrest immigrants who are in the country illegally, but can’t make a state, such as New York, do so.)

As for sports gambling specifically, the court said Congress could ban it, approve it or leave it up to the states.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.

Will sports betting start soon?

Numerous states, in anticipation of the ruling, already had moved forward to draft sports betting legislation. New Jersey — which had filed the lawsuit challenging the ban — is among those states in the forefront of those efforts, along with Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

At the same time, Congress is facing pressure — especially from sports leagues — to take control of the issue. The National Basketball Association has been the most vocal, saying the time for sports betting has come and that a federal framework is needed rather than 50 different sets of laws. Even leagues that have opposed gambling, such as the NFL, have said that if betting is going forward, it should be federally regulated.

What about New York?

New York hasn’t moved as quickly as New Jersey, but it hasn’t been idle. Back in 2013 when legislators approved a law to sanction four upstate casinos, they included a provision that said these facilities could offer sports betting if the Supreme Court ever lifted the ban.

The state still would need to adopt regulations before any of these casinos could offer sports betting and that would be achieved through either the state Gaming Commission or the State Legislature.

Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope) said the commission doesn’t have the wherewithal to act quickly; he already has proposed legislation to legalize sports betting, give the leagues a small royalty and assess a tax that would boost state revenue.

“We can be betting on sports before the start of the NFL season,” said Bonacic, chairman of the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee. He said if New York waits, New Jersey “will out our lunch.”

Key state Assembly members also plan to propose legislation by early June.

What about the governor?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo doesn’t see it the same way. He said there isn’t enough time before the scheduled adjournment (June 20) of the State Legislature to put together a comprehensive law.

Keep in mind, 2018 is a statewide election year, which will prod some lawmakers to call for immediate action and others to say wait till next year.

Could sports betting be offered beyond those four upstate casinos?

Absolutely. Lawmakers could extend the rights to off-track betting centers or video slot-machine parlors.

Also, Native American-run casinos might jump in. The Seneca Nation, which runs three casinos in Western New York, told The Buffalo News it’s reviewing its options.

But the Oneida Nation, which offers gambling on its lands near Utica, said it will offer sports betting as soon as possible. It said its 1993 casino compact with the state allows it to offer any form of betting that is allowed in the state — which means the provision for the four upstate casinos applies to the Oneidas, too.

“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,” the Oneidas said in a statement.

Were there immediate impacts after the ruling?

Stocks for firms that run casinos went up — as did companies that offer the computer systems to run gambling operations. Stocks for some Las Vegas hotels dipped, perhaps out of fear that fewer gamblers will have to go to Nevada in the future to wager.

Some are predicting the value of sports franchises will escalate.

“I think everybody who owns a top four professional sports team just basically saw the value of their team double, at least,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told CNBC after the court decision.

Sports gambling scandals weren’t unheard of in the 20th century. Isn’t this going to make more players susceptible to accepting payoffs from gamblers?

The leagues say competition “integrity” will be their highest priority. Supporters argue that it was black market gambling that spurred “point shaving” scandals of the past, and that an open and regulated betting system actually will keep the games clean.

It seems that idea will be tested sooner or later.

To prevent the chances of cheating, the leagues say any betting legislation should prohibit wagers on elements that can be easily rigged, such as first foul of a basketball game, first pitch (ball or strike) of a baseball game or first penalty in a football game.


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