Why Nevada’s Decision To Allow NFL Draft Betting Could Have A Federal Problem

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NFL draft betting Nevada

You’re going to be able to bet on the upcoming NFL Draft, if you’re in Nevada.

But that new development raises at least the prospect of a case against allowing such wagers under the federal prohibition against sports betting, also known as PASPA.

First, you can place bets on the NFL draft?

News broke last week that the Nevada Gaming Control Board approved the offering of prop bets on the draft at the state’s sportsbooks, as first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The request to be able to offer those bets came from William Hill US, ESPN reported. The draft takes place April 27-29. All bets must be placed by April 26.

You won’t be able to bet on when a certain player will be drafted or who the Cleveland Browns will take with the No. 1 pick. But the NGCB approved a variety of wagers, many based on over-unders of players taken from certain schools or at certain positions. (The full list of props is in the R-J story.)

As the R-J pointed out, Nevada has approved wagers on a variety of postseason awards in the past, such as the winner of the Heisman Trophy in college football, and awards in the NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL. However, this is the first time Nevada sports betting regulation will allow for betting on a pro sports draft.

So what would the problem be for NFL draft betting?

Why would this be a potential problem? PASPA is a law that is very much up for interpretation. We’ve seen that in play in the New Jersey sports betting case.

“I do not see any issues with PASPA,” NGCB chairman A.G. Burnett told LSR after the initial media reports came out.

But parsing PASPA even further, it’s at least conceivable that the NFL could have grounds to make a federal case out of it. Why? Because of the wording of the law.

“The vague language of PASPA, coupled with broad precedent from the New Jersey sports betting case, makes it possible that at least one sports league could file a PASPA lawsuit to try to stop betting on player drafts,” Ryan Rodenberg, a professor of sports law analytics at Florida State University, told Legal Sports Report.

Rodenberg notes that the language of PASPA’s prohibition is based on wagering on “games.” However, “games” is qualified by the phrase “directly or indirectly” in section 3702. Do drafts “indirectly” impact games? While that might seem like a stretch, it might be enough to file a lawsuit under PASPA.

Isn’t Nevada grandfathered into PASPA, though?

Furthermore, Rodenberg — who has studied PASPA at length  notes that law intended to put a stop to new forms of betting cropping up. That may even apply to states like Nevada that were grandfathered in when Congress enacted the law in 1992.

“The legislative history of PASPA indicates that various lawmakers thought sports wagering options in Nevada and about ten other grandfathered states would be frozen in time upon enactment,” Rodenberg continued.

It may not be likely that the NFL would want to make a case out of it, however.

“I am not expecting such a lawsuit to get filed, but it is worth monitoring as various judges and legislators consider PASPA’s boundaries,” Rodenberg said.

The bottom line: PASPA is an archaic law

Legal arguments about NFL draft betting and PASPA aside, we’re confronted with this reality: The leagues are trying to stop state-sponsored sports betting while saying and doing things diametrically opposed to that position.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says his league opposes legalized sports betting, and that it harms game integrity. In the next breath, he says the regulated environment in Nevada “could be beneficial.” There’s already plenty of dissonance from the NFL on its views toward gambling.

The idea that the NFL or other leagues are “harmed” by legal and regulated sports betting is increasingly becoming a farce, as attorney Daniel Wallach points out in his series at LSR (here and here.)

Will the NFL do anything about betting on the draft? Maybe — and even probably — not. But it still calls attention to the fact that legal sports betting in the US is being hamstrung by an archaic and ineffectual law meant for a different era.