The smart money always was on the United States Supreme Court opening the door to nationwide legal betting on sports events — which it finally did on Monday morning — and there was a good reason for that.
It was that beyond the lawyerly fine points, America simply was ready for this long- overdue step.
Much like earlier, far more important cases, from desegregating schools to allowing for interracial and same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court tends to reflect the evolving society and political environment in which it exists.
And ours, indisputably, has evolved to acceptance of legal gambling after decades of government-run lotteries and Native American casinos and the Internet-enabled ease of betting on sports events themselves.
The 6-3 vote to overturn a lower-court ruling in New Jersey’s long-running legal battle simply made it official.
But for several years now, this matter has not really been about the ethical and legal issues surrounding sports betting. It has been about everyone making sure they get their cuts — from states to bookmakers to sports leagues.
That has been obvious since 2014, when NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged publicly that the world had changed since the 1992 passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which in effect kept states from legalizing sports betting and which the Supreme Court swatted aside on Monday.
Silver accepted that gambling on sports was pervasive and largely unregulated. He also accepted that placing bets on sports events only keeps the audience that much more engaged. Fantasy sports has proved that. One of the biggest boons to fan engagement will come from what likely will be a huge rise in in-game betting.
After Silver dropped his bombshell, it all was a matter of time and logistics. That process now will unfold at the state level. New Jersey should be ready within weeks, and several other states already have wheels in motion. Look for New York to get in line, too.
While pro athletes for the most part make too much money to be swayed by gamblers, are referees and/or collegians vulnerable? Yes, they are, and sports organizations must do whatever they can to protect against that.
“We remain in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it, but we will remain active in ongoing discussions with state legislatures,” Silver said in a statement released after Monday’s ruling. “Regardless of the particulars of any future sports betting law, the integrity of our game remains our highest priority.”
For the broader society, betting on sports is harmless fun in moderation. Why should we have to schlep to Vegas to do it?
Somehow, European society has managed to function in an environment in which gambling simply is part of the air sports breathes, to the point that betting companies can be featured on soccer teams’ jerseys.
The strange thing about this issue in these fractured political times is that it mostly has been a non-partisan debate. In New Jersey, politicians from both parties are on board to open sports betting operations at casinos and racetracks, and about two-thirds of the state’s population endorsed the idea in a referendum in 2011.
The sports leagues knew this was coming and have been preparing to deal with it. They’ll live. We’ll all live.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Court, said, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”
Oh, don’t worry. They will. Because there is no good reason not to.