In New Jersey, legalized sports betting is stuck in a perpetual game of tug-of-war between state lawmakers and our nation’s professional sports leagues. Just when it seems like the current ban may be lifted, legal obstructions and challenges appear and maintain the status quo. As of November 2014, sports betting is illegal in New Jersey and facing an appeal of the most recent ruling, which came from a federal judge just before Thanksgiving. Now the case is heading to the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
A Short History of Sports Betting in New Jersey
In 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed. This federal law, also known as the Bradley Act, was created to legally define the status of sports betting in the United States and limit future state laws allowing this type of gambling. This act included a one-year window from its passage date during which individual states with active, licensed casinos were permitted to enact laws allowing sports betting. This window closed on January 1st, 1993. This window was created with New Jersey in mind, which ultimately did not take advantage of the opportunity to become exempt from the regulations set forth by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
Under this ban, sports betting is illegal in all but four states: Oregon, Nevada, Montana, and Delaware.
In 2011, New Jersey voters approved the Sports Wagering Act. This law partially repealed the existing prohibitions on sports betting in the Garden State. The NCAA, MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL responded by taking legal action against the state on the grounds that the law violated the PASPA. In 2013, an appellate panel in Philadelphia ruled in favor of the sports leagues. New Jersey lawmakers continued to pursue the case.
A Bill Becomes Law
In 2014, Governor Chris Christie signed the Sports Wagering Act into law. This act allowed New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks to facilitate betting on all sporting events except those involving New Jersey college teams or any other college sporting events hosted in New Jersey. All professional sporting events were fair game, and legal wagering was set to begin in mid-October at Monmouth Park racetrack.
Then, the sporting leagues created another hurdle for the fledgling sports betting industry. A federal judge granted them a temporary restraining order to continue hashing out the issue in court. Legal sports betting has still not begun in New Jersey and will not for the foreseeable future.
Opposition From Sports Leagues
Pushback against legalized sports betting comes from concerns about sports leagues’ reputations and image with fans who might be morally opposed to gambling. This is understandable. Gambling is a vice and just like other vices, such as alcohol and tobacco usage, can be harmful and addictive. But following the reports of doping, domestic violence, racism, and fraud found in our nation’s collegiate and professional sports leagues, making bets on games seems almost wholesome.
A famous exception to this opposition is NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. In November 2014, Silver’s pro-sports betting essay, “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting,” was published in the New York Times.
A New Approach to Sports Betting
“I believe we need a different approach,” he wrote in the opening paragraph of the essay.
Silver’s stance is that legalizing sports betting will make it safer for individuals who choose to participate in the activity. Currently, gamblers place their bets through offshore websites and unregulated booking services. These are illegal and can be very risky for gamblers. Legalizing sports betting would bring much-needed regulation of the popular pastime.
“Times have changed since PASPA was enacted,” he wrote. “Gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States. Most states offer lotteries. Over half of them have legal casinos. Three have approved some form of Internet gambling, with others poised to follow.”
The Magnitude of Illegal Sports Betting
Illegal sports betting is no small issue. In Silver’s piece, he states that Americans wager an estimated $400 billion illegally on sports every year. Think about that for a moment. $400 billion. For comparison’s sake, Walmart brings in about $352 billion in revenue each year.
Legalized sports betting is part of Christie and other New Jersey lawmakers’ plan to revitalize the state’s gambling industry and help our long-suffering Atlantic City.
“The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on,” said Senator Stephen M. Sweeney in response to the most recent block to the law.
In addition to the economic benefits for New Jersey, Silver argued that the legalization and regulation of sports betting can help betters and the outlets that offer this service. Regulating sports betting would require all operations to be licensed and monitored, creating a transparency that could help catch any instances of fraud. It would also ensure that all gamblers are of age and within New Jersey’s borders through age verification and geolocation technology. Finally, revenue from legalized sports betting could be used to fund programs that help gambling addicts recover from their addiction and other resources such as gambler education programs.
All About the Money
It’s about the money. It’s always about the money. I’ll bet you all the money I’m no longer able to spend at Taj Mahal that if the professional sports leagues and individual team franchises within them could get a cut from the bets placed on their games, sports gambling would be legal in all fifty states.