[toc]This much is clear about sports betting in the United States: There’s at least some uncertainty about the federal law that stops almost every state from legalizing and regulating it.
But how much political will is there to push the envelope of that uncertainty?
Clarifying US sports betting law
There are two routes by which the uncertainty surrounding US sports betting can be cleared up: via the federal court system ruling on current law, or via Congress changing the law.
The quicker way would likely be the former, if the US Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeal in the New Jersey sports betting case. Of course, the result of that could be a negative for proponents of legal sports betting, if SCOTUS were to rule that New Jersey is in violation of the federal sports betting prohibition, PASPA.
Many believe the more likely path to sports betting in the US is by amending or repealing PASPA in Congress.
But the odds of a Supreme Court appeal being heard in the case have increased after a request from the court for the US Solicitor General to weigh in. That request makes it appear that the Supreme Court is at least considering taking the case.
The timeframe for the SG to offer its take on the case — and for the Supreme Court to announce if it will hear the case — is currently open-ended.
That leaves a window to create more momentum for sports betting that interested states would be smart to open even further.
Other states can demonstrate that the sports betting issue isn’t going away
So far, the US Third Circuit of Appeals has consistently ruled against New Jersey doing a partial repeal of its sports prohibition, saying such action is in violation of PASPA.
However, that’s just one of many federal circuits that deal with interpreting federal law. There are lawmakers in other states that have a desire to craft a challenge to PASPA, in the mold of New Jersey. Those states include:
Those states are in different circuits of the federal court system than NJ resides in; a law being passed by any would be challenged in court as well. The hope would be to get a different ruling than the Third Circuit has issued so far in the New Jersey case. The real endgame, no matter what, is to get the matter in front of the Supreme Court, so the current status of PASPA can be put to rest, once and for all.
Getting to that endgame sooner, rather than later, is the ideal scenario (except if you are the NCAA and the professional US sports leagues, the plaintiffs in the NJ case). If one or all of the states above were to pass sports betting legislation this year, it would make it clear more challenges to federal law are coming. That is certainly a good thing if you’re hoping for SCOTUS to eventually hear a case involving PASPA.
More states = more momentum
Even if the NJ sports betting case is not heard by SCOTUS, it’s a good time to act for states interested in eventually authorizing sports wagering. There is momentum on sports betting, even if incremental.
The American Gaming Association is starting a lobbying push in Congress. Being able to point to states other than New Jersey pushing the sports betting issue would help its cause.
When I talked to a Michigan state Rep. Robert Kosowski about his sports betting bill, he told me he was interested in creating a coalition of lawmakers interested in the issue. The US Conference of Mayors is already on board with the AGA’s stance on sports betting.
Fighting for sports betting is not cheap, as New Jersey has proven. But a legal sports betting market would be a boon to both state government coffers and casinos in the long run. Whether any other state legislature can muster the same political will that New Jersey has to fight for sports betting in court remains to be seen.
There is at least a chance sports betting law in the US will get turned on its head by New Jersey acting on its own. But other states with a casino industry that want to open up their markets to sports betting would be wise not to let New Jersey go it alone.