Ruling could affect more than just betting

Sports betting is big business, especially at this time of year when dozens of college football teams are competing in bowl games, four of them are vying for a national championship title and NFL playoffs are about to begin.

I’d venture to guess there probably is no bigger time of year for those who prosper from the lines set in Las Vegas.

Of course, not all betting happens in Vegas. By some estimates, underground sports betting in the United States is worth $150 billion to $400 billion per year.

That’s why political leaders in many states see dollar signs when they consider potential tax revenue they miss out on due to a federal law, the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, that effectively makes sports betting illegal in most states.

Since the law’s 1992 passage, only four states — Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon — have allowed some level of legalized sports betting, and only because their state laws already allowed it before 1992.

The USA Today reported last week PASPA said any state that did not legalize sports betting by 1993 was prohibited from doing it. Despite heavy lobbying from Atlantic City, including an aggressive push from then-casino owner Donald Trump, a bill to put a sports betting referendum on the ballot in 1993 failed in the New Jersey state Assembly.

But now New Jersey is fighting the legality of the federal law, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. New Jersey argued earlier this month that PASPA violates language of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution giving states the right to govern themselves.

Opposing New Jersey is the NCAA, NFL, Major League Baseball and other professional sports leagues who contend the existing ban should be maintained to protect the integrity of their games.

Unquestionably, it’s foolish to try to predict judges’ rulings. Still, many legal experts believe the justices may be leaning toward permitting sports gambling in that state — a move that would open the door for similar attempts by other states.

So far, Ohio has taken no action, but several neighboring states are moving forward with attempts to capitalize on an affirmative ruling by the Supreme Court.

West Virginia, for instance, has a House bill pending that, among other things, would authorize that state’s lottery commission to create sports betting rules. Pennsylvania’s legislature in October passed a robust gambling bill that would allow online gambling and permit licensed sports betting if federal law allows it. And New York also has bills pending that would authorize sports betting at racetracks, casinos and off-track betting sites.

While that’s all interesting, the fact is this high court decision could have much larger implications than just its effect on gambling. That’s because this case also offers justices a rare opportunity to define the limits of federalism and the meaning of the 10th Amendment. Ultimately, that far-reaching decision could affect state control of hot button issues like gun control, immigration, sanctuary cities and marijuana legalization.

States vary in their laws and beliefs on all these issues and others. The federal government has played a significant rule in creating regulations that it demands the states follow. Still, states have begun making their own way.

The question remains about what control the federal government should have on these issues or if the states should be allowed to make their own rules — much the way our founding fathers dictated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Daniel Wallach, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer specializing in sports law, told the Washington Post the decision “could have repercussions in areas that go well beyond sports betting.”

“It is the most important federalism case the Supreme Court has heard in many, many years,” he said.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court can go various ways with this decision, including finding against New Jersey, creating new regulations or leaving the door open for Congress to address the issue. At the end of the day, the Supreme Court is going to do something that will alter the way sports betting is handled in America.

And with that decision, expected this spring, comes the possibility more changes could come by defining how the states may handle many other controversial issues.