Last week the sports world saw one of its biggest annual events take place: The Kentucky Derby. The race is famous for its grandeur status both in fashion and money. It is estimated that amounts upwards of $130 million is spent on gambling every year just on the derby.
Gambling is one of the things that makes The Kentucky Derby so special because of its taboo. Regulated gambling on other sports like football, baseball or basketball is illegal in the U.S. with some exceptions. At least, for now, it is.
In 2012, the state of New Jersey enacted the Sports Wagering Act which allowed sports betting to take place in the state’s casinos and horse tracks. It was a short-lived victory for New Jersey as the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB sued the state for violating a 1992 bill that prohibited state-sanctioned sports gambling.
The state argued that the 1992 bill should be null because it was a violation of the 10th Amendment. They lost in federal court but after years of fighting, it finally reached the Supreme Court which heard the case in December.
The decision could come at any time this year and the Supreme Court sides with New Jersey, as many legal experts predict they will, it will open the floodgates for states to follow suit. The question still stands though: should sports gambling be legal and state regulated?
The answer is a resounding yes. Thanks to movies like “Casino” and “Goodfellas” and real-life scandals like Boston College basketball in the 1970s and the infamous Black Sox team in the 1920s, gambling and corruption have gone hand-in-hand in most people’s minds. The problem is the stigma is mostly overblown and the corruption is a largely unfounded fear.
Ironically, keeping gambling illegal is what is making parts of that stigma still ring true. Should gambling become legal, people will instead go that route rather than deal with bookies who could land them in danger. There are outliers, as with anything, but the majority will go through the state to gamble should it be legal.
Think of it like Prohibition in the 1920s. The entire thing was established to cut off what many saw as an unsavory practice and thought banning it would help the country sober up. Instead, people took to illegal means and the alcohol black market flourished. Once Prohibition was abolished, were people generally still using back channels to get their alcohol or did they simply return to the norm?
That’s exactly what would happen with gambling. Fans are going to gamble no matter what. Some, like me, do it through offshore websites which is perfectly legal and others use shadier methods like bookies.
So keeping it illegal for the states to regulate it isn’t going to magically stop people from gambling. Sports is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, entertainment products in this country and to expect people to not gamble on them is ridiculous.
If its citizens not breaking the law isn’t enough motivation for the states to make the change then there is one that almost any would like: money. While it’s hard to estimate exactly how much money is illegally gambled every year, estimates run from $80 billion to as high as $300
billion. Should the state legalize betting and regulate it themselves, that’s a ton of revenue that could go towards things like infrastructure, public schools and other projects.
The fear of games being fixed is a problem of the past. Athletes make enough money at the professional level that they have no incentive to take what is a small amount to them and risk tarnishing their careers.
Even the league itself wants betting to happen. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times advocating for sports gambling to be legal in 2014. He’s had that belief almost as long as this has been in court. Meanwhile, the NFL and NHL have placed teams in Las Vegas showing the stigma around gambling is fading away.
Sports gambling is going to happen either way but states can cash in on it and make sure it’s done safely and properly. The question remains if the Supreme Court sees it that way as well.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.