Odds are that biggest effect of a bipartisan bill to regulate sports gambling in the United States will be that a lot more people will get a piece of the action.
The U.S. Supreme Court let the sports betting genie out of the bottle earlier this year when it said a federal law that prevented states from reconsidering their sports gambling bans was unconstitutional.
Nine states have subsequently legalized sports gambling, which means big paydays for casinos there and more gambling tax revenue for those states. Similar moves are pending in several other states.
In Oklahoma, legalizing sports gambling got some talk at the Capitol last year, and it will again when new legislators shows up at the Capitol in a few months. The issue might get pushed to 2020 when the state’s tribal compacts are due to be renewed, but maybe sooner. After all, there’s a lot of sports gambling money on the line for the tribes and, through the compacts, for the state.
It’s not surprising that Congress wanted in on the jackpot.
According to The Associated Press, the bipartisan legislation offered by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Orrin Hatch of Utah would allow states to legalize gambling on a wide range of sports, including pro sports, the Olympics and college sports. Other amateur sports would be off limits. So, you wouldn’t be able to bet on your kid’s Little League game at the local casino.
The bill instructs the U.S. Justice Department to set up minimum standards for states allowing sports gambling, creates a nationwide self-exclusion list for problem gamblers and provides funding for problem gambling treatment programs. That would be paid for with a gambling tax. Hey, more money for the federal government!
The bill would also require sports wagering operators to use data provided or licensed by professional sports leagues. Look! Licensing fees for the NFL and all the other leagues.
The bill is silent — for now — on one hotly debated issue, integrity fees. All the important professional sports leagues want the fees, which they say would allow them to protect the good name of their games ... and, not coincidentally, give them more of the gambling revenue.
As the bill moves along, you can count on heavy lobbying from the leagues and the casinos for and against an integrity fee mandate. Members of Congress are certainly counting on the political donations that just thinking about it will generate.
You’ve probably noticed the common theme to all the elements of this story: Money. The casinos, the states, the tribes, the leagues, the politicians all see a way to get more of it ... from the gamblers.
Here’s a nearly forgotten footnote to the whole story: The Supreme Court didn’t rule that Congress couldn’t ban sports gambling. It still can.
The court said Congress couldn’t tell states that they couldn’t legalize gambling, which is different.
The 1992 federal law in question didn’t create a federal gambling ban, it simply froze state action on their gambling bans, thus conveniently leaving one state’s legal gaming book in place — Nevada’s.
The problem with the law was that its violated the Constitution’s design of federalism by telling states what their legislatures could do.
“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.
Since 1992, everyone’s attitude about sports gaming seems to have changed, but especially the professional sports league and the NCAA.
Back in the day, the major sports leagues fought sports gambling tooth and toenail.
In 1979, Willie Mays, the greatest five-tool player of all time, was banned from baseball. His crime: He had taken a job at as a greeter at an Atlantic City casino.
In 1983, Major League Baseball did the same thing to Mickey Mantle, the greatest switch-hitter ever.
Such was MLB’s anxiety about sports betting (Remember the Black Sox scandal?) that it cut ties to the two greatest Hall of Famers of their era.
The bans lasted until 1985.
These days, MLB and the other sports leagues are a lot less concerned about how gambling might taint the games, so long as they get their integrity fee. Neither do a lot of politicians for whom integrity is often more of an aspiration than an asset.
What’s driving all this new thinking is money, but to get that money, we’re going to have to have sports gambling. So, we’re going to have sports gambling.