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Legal Sports Betting Likely to Spread to Other States

In an article that appeared on on Thursday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made some very intriguing comments on the subject of sports betting.

“It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada and we will ultimately participate in that,” Silver told Bloomberg.

Silver compared the potential for legalized sports betting in the U.S. to the current situation in the United Kingdom, where sports betting is completely legal and seems to drive involvement in the matches.

“If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time,” Silver stated.

These comments come as somewhat of a surprise, considering the league’s longstanding stance on sports betting. The NBA, along with other professional and amateur sports leagues, have vehemently opposed sports betting to the point that the NBA was among the various leagues that sued New Jersey (and won) to prevent their 2011 sports betting law from being implemented.

On the other hand, Silver is a new commissioner trying to make his mark, and at 52 years old, perhaps sees the value in change as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

Exactly how Silver sees sports-betting expansion in the U.S. taking place is unclear, as New Jersey’s attempts to have the federal PASPA law that bans sports betting ruled unconstitutional has failed. Although, it should be noted that New Jersey is now recalculating and seems to have found a reasonable workaround (more on this in a moment) to PASPA that could open the flood gates for other states.

What is PASPA?

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 bans sports betting across the country, except in Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. Interestingly, even though the other states have PASPA exemptions, Nevada is the only state that has comprehensive legal sports betting laws on the books.

Even more interesting, New Jersey was offered a PASPA exemption back when the law was crafted in 1992, but the state legislature (which now so desperately wants sports betting) never acted and the exemption was rescinded after a year.

The true power behind PASPA (the NCAA and professional sports leagues) can best be summed up by the fact that Delaware, which has a PASPA exemption, attempted to expand into sports betting in 2009 but was blocked by the Third Circuit Court. The state was allowed to offer three-team NFL parlays as something of a consolation prize.

Delaware’s denial (despite an exemption) shows how hard fought passing a sports betting law in another state would be… but this hasn’t stopped New Jersey from trying.

New Jersey’s PASPA fight and potential workaround

Silver’s comments were most likely directed at the current situation unfolding in the Garden State.

New Jersey has been fighting for sports betting since 2009, and after passing a bill, and the requisite ballot referendum, they found themselves taken to court by the NCAA and professional sports leagues challenging their new law.

Unfortunately, New Jersey has been unable to convince the courts they are right (that PASPA violates state’s rights and equal sovereignty, all states treated equally), and the state saw their attempts to institute legalized sports betting officially dashed by the Supreme Court when the SCOTUS decided not to hear the case in June of this year.

Undeterred, New Jersey is now trying to circumvent PASPA sports betting laws.

This latest attempt (an ingenious bill crafted by the state’s online gambling architect, State Senator Raymond Lesniak) seeks to remove the PASPA hurdle by repealing older statutes that ban sports betting by private companies. In doing so, the state would have no hand in New Jersey’s sports betting industry (the key component to PASPA) and PASPA wouldn’t come into play –at least that’s the theory Lesniak and others are working under; the courts may see it differently once again as it would likely be challenged.

The new bill easily passed through the legislature (38-1 in the Senate and 63-6-2 in the Assembly) but met with Governor Chris Christie’s veto pen in August. Even though Christie is a proponent of sports betting expansion, he felt that New Jersey had to adhere to the laws of the land, and that the courts had spoken.

Now Lesniak and the legislature are attempting to override the governor’s veto (which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers), something that hasn’t happened during Christie’s entire time in office, but does have a chance on this issue, considering the legislature has already taken the difficult step of even scheduling an override vote.

For one thing, this is Christie’s final term in office, so Republicans who initially voted for the bill may vote for the override measure as well instead of toeing the party line. Additionally, several key Republicans are in districts that would greatly benefit from legalized sports betting.

The override vote is scheduled for September 22nd.


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Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.