Effort To Legalize Sports Betting Comes With Unprecedented Momentum
Legal Sports Report

The US Sports Betting Push Comes To Congress: Pallone, LoBiondo Introduce Bills In House

federal sports betting bill Frank Pallone
A pair of Congressmen from New Jersey have introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to legalize sports betting in the United States.

View the text of the bill here.

The new sports betting bills, at a glance

Congressmen Frank LoBiondo and Frank Pallone, Jr. announced on Wednesday that they have reintroduced legislation to legalize sports betting. There were rumblings that such legislation would be forthcoming late last year.

Currently, sports betting on single games is illegal across the US, except for in Nevada.

What Pallone, LoBiondo said

More from the Congressmen via a press release:

“Sports-betting is already happening across our state and across the country, but instead of being appropriately overseen and raising needed revenue for our casinos, racetracks, businesses, and the state, these bets are placed through illegal enterprises,” said Congressman Pallone.  “It is time to bring this activity out of the shadows.  I am pleased to join Congressman LoBiondo in reintroducing these commonsense bills that would level the playing field and give New Jersey’s citizens the opportunity to share in the profits from sports betting.”

“Each year competition from neighboring states and the proliferation of off-the-books betting grows, leaving Atlantic City’s gaming operations at a disadvantage. I strongly believe that sports-betting can help give our famed resort town a hand up, providing yet another unique option for patrons in addition to the quality entertainment, dining, shopping and beaches,”said Congressman LoBiondo.

“I’m pleased Congressman Pallone, our casinos, local elected officials and an overwhelming majority of New Jersey residents agree. Over the years we have made progress on bringing sports-betting to our state and I hope that a bipartisan coalition in Congress can come together in support of legalizing and regulating sports-betting,”

What the sports betting bills would do

There are two different bills at play:

  • The NJ BET Act from Pallone seeks to exempt New Jersey from PASPA’s prohibition.
  •  The Sports Gaming Opportunity Act from LoBiondo would allow any state that wants to legalize sports betting to do so during a four-year window.

New Jersey’s state government has enacted a pair of laws attempting to legalize sports wagering, but that effort has been repeatedly defeated in court.

The backstory for Congress, New Jersey and sports betting

PASPA is a 1992 law passed by Congress that outlaws sports wagering of any kind in most states; single-sport wagering is allowed in Nevada, but nowhere else.

Three states — Delaware, Montana and Oregon — can offer limited forms of sports wagering, under the law.

Despite that prohibition, the American Gaming Association has estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars are being wagered illegally on sports in the US each year.

This is not the first time bills regarding sports betting have surfaced in Congress, as a pair were introduced in 2015:

  • Pallone authored the New Jersey Betting and Equal Treatment Act, which would have allowed the state to offer legal sports betting.
  • LoBiondo introduced the Sports Gaming Opportunity Act, which would have allowed any state to authorize and regulate sports betting over a four-year window.

Neither of those bills went anywhere, however.

Sports betting has been one of the major issues for Pallone in particular and the New Jersey delegation in general. For years there have been attempts to legalize New Jersey sports betting via new laws at the state level, in an effort to help the casinos and racetracks in Atlantic City.

The rise of the daily fantasy sports industry has provided a new entry point for the sports betting discussion in Congress, and there are at least some questions of the applicability of PASPA to DFS. Congress held a hearing on DFS in 2016, a hearing that functioned more as a table-setter for later discussions and this new legislative effort.

Where New Jersey’s court challenge stands

After a string of defeats in lower courts, New Jersey’s legal challenge to PASPA now sits in the hands of the Supreme Court.

In January, the court declined to either hear or dismiss the case, instead opting to request a brief from the US Solicitor General regarding the government’s position.

The consensus remains that the court’s decision greatly increased the chances of New Jersey getting to make the state’s case directly to SCOTUS. But it’s less clear how the decision impacts the actual outlook for the case in terms of a legal resolution.

New Jersey not alone in efforts

While Pallone’s effort is the sole bill at the federal level, New Jersey has been joined in its broader efforts to challenge the federal ban on regulated sports betting by a number of states:

Those states, and others could form the crux of an expanded legal challenge to PASPA.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.