Congress To Look At Sports Betting? Pair Of NJ Reps Call For Hearings

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A pair of Congressmen from New Jersey — one Republican and one Democrat — have officially asked a House committee to hold hearings on the topic of sports betting.

The letter from Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Donald Norcross come a month and a half before the state’s case to legalize sports wagering will be heard in the US Supreme Court.

Congress and sports betting?

First reported by ESPN’s David Purdum, the details of the request came out later. The two lawmakers are asking the House Judiciary Committee to look into the issue, as the landscape for sports betting could change quickly, depending on the result of the NJ sports betting case.

A victory for New Jersey potentially means that state and others could legalize and regulate sports gambling within their borders. The case turns on the nation’s highest court interpretation of PASPA, the federal law prohibiting single-game sports betting outside of Nevada.

The letter was addressed to committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte and ranking member Rep. John Conyers. More on the contents of the letter from the Press of Atlantic City:

“We strongly believe the relevant committees should examine the issue prior to the Court’s ruling to ensure Congress is fully informed and positioned to quickly respond to the court,” according to the letter dated Oct. 13.

“This massive illegal market lacks consumers protections and deprives states and local jurisdictions of revenue that would otherwise stem from a regulated marketplace,” according to the letter. “In recognition of PASPA’s failure to prevent illegal sports betting and the benefits of regulations and taxing this activity.”

The chances for sports betting action

LoBiondo and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced sports betting bills earlier this year, with no action taken on either. A draft of a bill from Pallone more widely looking at gaming issues surfaced in the spring, seeking to repeal PASPA.

Whether the request from the above Congressmen will be compelling remains to be seen. The Republican-led Congress has not been able to pass any major legislation since the election of President Donald Trump.
Seeing progress on a sports betting bill would seem to be a stretch in the short term.
Nevertheless, members from both parties asking for action should be a sign that the issue is not necessarily a partisan one. That means it could avoid some political rancor. But tacking the issue of gambling in Congress is still likely a charged issue.

Take two for Congress

The issues of daily fantasy sports and sports betting have been at the fringes of Congress’ radar dating pack to 2015, when Pallone asked for hearings into the industry led by the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel.

Hearings did indeed take place, but resulted in no substantive action regarding either DFS or sports betting. (The latter was also in the title of the hearing but barely came up.)

Instead, states led the way on changing the legal and regulatory environment, as 14 states passed fantasy sports laws in the past two years.

Even if New Jersey wins its sports betting case…

If PASPA is struck down it could still leave a vacuum in which sports betting would exist. There are other laws that intersect with sports betting at the federal level.

First, PASPA coming off the books leaves a scenario where states regulate sports betting piecemeal. That’s something the pro sports leagues have pushed back against, with the NBA specifically favoring a federal framework.

Both the UIGEA and the Wire Act have a potential to cause problems for sports betting or limit how it occurs, as well. Even with a positive decision for NJ from SCOTUS, there’s a need for Congress to look at existing gaming laws. Those laws, however, defer to state laws rather than prescribe them.

There’s also the potential that New Jersey loses its case and PASPA stays on the books. That would leave it up to Congress if there’s to be any change for the legal climate of US sports betting.

Pictured: Rep. LoBiondo. Credit: Bill Clark / Getty Images