[toc]A sports betting bill that passed the Connecticut legislature earlier this month suddenly seems a whole lot more relevant.
Why? The revelation that the US Supreme Court will hear an appeal in the New Jersey sports betting case increases the prospects that Connecticut could roll out legal sports betting quickly should NJ win its case.
And other states should be taking notice.
Connecticut and sports betting
The state legislature passed a gaming expansion package earlier in June. One of the moving pieces in one of the bills — H 6948 — included a provision about getting the state ready for legal sports wagering:
The Commissioner of Consumer Protection shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 of the general statutes, to regulate wagering on sporting events to the extent permitted by state and federal law.
The SCOTUS review of the NJ case raises the possibility that federal law could allow for state regulation of sports betting. That would happen if the court finds the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) to be unconstitutional.
According to tracking for the bill, it was transmitted to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy on Tuesday.
Per the Connecticut Mirror, state law would still need to be changed to allow for sports betting. Here’s more from the Mirror on the company that offers pari-mutuel wagering in the state:
Ted Taylor, the president of Sportech in Connecticut, has left no doubt that his company would seek rights to sports betting as an expansion of its exclusive right to offer pari-mutuel wagering on out-of-state horse and dog racing and jai alai.
“It’s a business that we’re in, and I think the state should be looking at it very carefully,” Taylor said Tuesday in an interview. “The state needs the tax revenue.”
Passing a sports betting law now is a better bet
Previously, any state passing a sports betting bill was doing so with very uncertain prospects:
- Any state going the route of New Jersey would have been setting themselves up for a lengthy court battle. No such bill has gained much traction, despite introduction of legislation or chatter in several states.
- Any placeholder bill — a la Connecticut — required a change in federal law, which would have to come from the courts or Congress. The horizon for Congressional action is still a matter of years, even in an optimistic scenario.
But New Jersey getting its day in the nation’s highest court has increased the odds considerably that PASPA could be off the books within a year. SCOTUS only hears a fraction of the petitions for appeal brought before it. It often reverses lower court rulings when it does take up a case.
It’s still not a guarantee of course, that New Jersey will win. But the odds of a victory are a lot shorter than they were just a few days ago, before we knew the appeal would be heard.
All of that means that passing a sports betting bill now could help a state ramp up legal wagering quickly in the event that SCOTUS deems PASPA unconstitutional.
States should act now
Given the news out of New Jersey, if I were a lawmaker in a state with horse tracks, lotterys or casinos, I would have started working in earnest on passing a sports betting bill yesterday.
That goes double for any state, like New York or Maryland, where a constitutional amendment is needed, and where the timeframe to enact a law would be longer. (In the former state, there’s at least a chance that the state could try to avoid the amendment process by labeling sports betting as a “game of skill,” as it did with a law passed last year on daily fantasy sports and a bill for online poker that didn’t reach the finish line this year.
States that are first movers in the sports betting space will enjoy new revenue and attract more visitors to their facilities almost immediately.
Here is the list of states have already introduced sports betting bills this year:
- New York
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
The most likely to join Connecticut in the short term is Pennsylvania. Regulation of sports betting appears in an omnibus gaming package that includes online gambling and DFS.
The bottom line: Legal and regulated sports betting is starting to become a real possibility more quickly than anyone imagined. And states would be wise to start acting now.