States are betting on sports gambling

Published Mar 8, 2018 at 4:00pm

This spring or early summer, the U.S. Supreme Court might legalize sports betting across the country. Dozens of states are scrambling to get ready.

Supreme Court oddsmakers are betting that the justices will side with the state of New Jersey when they decide Christie v. NCAA, which would invalidate a 1992 federal law banning states from authorizing and licensing sports betting. In oral arguments heard in December, a majority of the justices appeared sympathetic to New Jersey’s argument that the 10th Amendment prohibits Congress from “commandeering” states into enforcing federal law.

It is a tricky argument that holds implications beyond sports. What about other federal prohibitions including legalized marijuana and euthanasia? The 10th Amendment reserves to the states or the people any powers not specifically granted to the federal government, but courts have generally upheld the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause as meaning federal law pre-empts conflicting state laws.

During oral arguments, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority seemed prepared to let other states join Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana, where sports betting was legal before the 1992 law was passed.

The American Gaming Association estimates that at least $150 billion a year is bet illegally on sports. No one knows for sure, and other estimates run as high as $400 billion. Whatever it is, states are hoping to peel some of it off. How would it work?

There are different versions. One would have sports bettors sign up at a casino. Their accounts would be run through a phone app so they could bet anywhere. A bill proposed in Missouri, for instance, would impose a 12 percent tax on the adjusted gross betting receipts as well as 2 percent administrative fee. In addition, sports leagues would get 1 percent of everything bet on their games for “integrity enforcement.”

What the high court will do isn’t certain. But one things is certain: When the Final Four is determined you may be shocked -- shocked -- to find that gambling is going on.