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Legalized sports betting: Coming to a state near you?

Bettors catch the action in NFL football at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in 2013. (Shutterstock photo)

On Thursday, Sept. 6, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 18-12 in the first game of the 2018 NFL season – bringing an end to the yearly football drought that lasts approximately seven months. In the weeks prior, I’m sure you – or someone you know – were deep in preparation for the start of the season. Fantasy football drafts anyone?

However, if you have an interest in both sports and the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, you will know that this year brings an added twist to football season: Legal sports betting!

For me, this is nothing new. I grew up under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip and was practically raised in casinos and sports books. My parents were both casino dealers, and my dad’s main gambling vice was not blackjack or craps. Dad loves to bet sports. I was also his little mini-me growing up and would accompany him on trips to the sportsbook, where he would let me make a pick for him and then sit me on the counter while the bookie solidified that week’s bet.

Dad would place bets on pretty much any sport, but football was probably his favorite. At 14 years old, my Dad taught me how to “bet the spread” in football, which is saying that you bet on a team to win or not lose by a predetermined margin of points. In my life, this was normal, and it was all thanks to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (“the Act”). The Act allowed the legalization of sports betting in Oregon, Montana, Delaware and my home state, Nevada.

It was because of the Act that, for years, my entire childhood was based on the idea that Las Vegas would never see a professional sports team because sports betting was legal on all sports – professional and collegiate. Nothing says “local support” like placing a football or basketball bet for the only two college teams in the state, the UNLV Rebels and, my alma mater, Nevada Wolf Pack. In fact, during my first year at Nevada in 2010 – when a team led by Colin Kaepernick shocked the NCAA Football world by defeating then #4 Boise State, ruining their chance at the National Championship – my dad bet on the Wolf Pack to win the Championship, to show how much he supported me and my school!

However, in the last decade, the internet brought us FanDuel, established in 2009, and DraftKings, established in 2012. Both sites allow for daily fantasy sports where, for a fee, you could play in daily contests based around any sport of your choosing. Playing in these contests offered you a chance to win money, on an account you kept with the website.

In 2006, the government enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which made it illegal to do have point-spread gambling over the internet but said that fantasy sports “gambling” like FanDuel and DraftKings were an exception because “outcomes reflect relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals.” However, several states saw these websites as forms of gambling and enacted legislation that made it illegal to play on these websites. There was a time where, if you logged on to FanDuel or DraftKings, your location would be determined, and a disclaimer would pop up saying that you couldn’t utilize their website because of state law.

But, the times they are a changing, and it’s thanks in part to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In 2011, New Jersey voters approved an amendment to their state’s constitution that allowed for the legalization of sports betting. After all, Atlantic City is the second most well-known gambling town behind Las Vegas – what I call the “Las Vegas of the East Coast.” Christie signed the amendment into law in 2012 but found it overturned by federal district and appeals courts. So, Christie tried to make a loophole by stopping short of legalization statewide and allowing the prohibition against running a sports book at horse tracks and the state’s casinos. Federal and appeals courts, again, rejected the attempt to legalize gambling in the state.

Enter the United States Supreme Court. In December 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the matter in which New Jersey – and those who agreed with them – argued that the Act of 1992 interfered with the 10th Amendment and the rights of the states.

Do you need a Constitutional Law refresher? Yes? Well the 10th Amendment specifically states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” And in May 2018, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Christie and the State of New Jersey and struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. In the opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito – himself a New Jersey native – the Court said, “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

Even before the decision was made, there were 18 states that were ready to pave the way for sports betting to happen within their borders and five states, already had laws in place to do so.

What happens now? Mobile apps have gone live in New Jersey allowing for sports betting without stepping foot into a casino. New Jersey saw $325,000 in tax revenue the first month, and has seen over $40 million spent by those making wagers. West Virginia jumped on the opportunity with Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races being the first establishment to offer legal sports betting. In their first weekend, West Virginia saw over $320,000 in taxable revenue. That number is expected to rise with the NFL season kicking into full swing.

Additionally, Mississippi and Delaware have also legalized sports betting with Pennsylvania, New York, and Rhode Island having passed bills allowing for the legalization. Fourteen other states have introduced bills that are waiting to be passed. It’s safe to say that sports betting is not going anywhere anytime soon.

For me, it’s a little strange to know that my home state is no longer the only place you can place your bets on your favorite sport. To this day, talking sports with my dad is still something I treasure with every breath. While sports betting is something that can and will run away with you without a second glance, it is important to know where your state stands. This is going to be a hotly debated topic for years to come and one that will change the scenery of the country going forward.

Jessica Gilgor Jessica Gilgor is a 3L at Creighton University School of Law. A native of Las Vegas, she graduated from the University of Nevada Reno, where she studied Professional Chemistry and minored in Physics. Jessica was a part-time sports journalist for the United States Bowling Congress during their Open Championships tournament under the tutelage of Matt Cannizzaro and Aaron Smith.