NBA previously wanted federal regulation of sports betting, but it's faced with the reality of states acting first
Legal Sports Report

NBA, MLB Apparently Think They’re Going To Lose The New Jersey Sports Betting Case

Leagues lose NJ sports betting
A funny thing happened at the start of the week: At least two pro sports leagues have started lobbying for regulation of sports betting at the state level in the US.

According to ESPN, the NBA and Major League Baseball are behind an effort in Indiana — if sports wagering is legalized in the state — to give one percent of handle to leagues as an “integrity fee.”

That’s a very new development in the sports betting world. Currently, those two leagues are fighting the legalization of sports wagering in the New Jersey sports betting case, aka Christie vs. NCAA.

The lobbying taking place in Indiana appears to be the best sign yet that leagues think they’re going to lose in their effort to uphold the federal sports betting ban, PASPA.

The timeline for the leagues and sports betting

Here’s what we know on what’s happened with the NBA and sports betting, and the timeline of events:

  • About three years ago, Commissioner Adam Silver wrote his now-famous New York Times op-ed calling for regulation of sports betting in the US.
  • Despite that stance, the NBA, as recently as the summer of 2016, said it would not lobby Congress for regulation.
  • After years of losses by New Jersey, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear NJ’s appeal in Christie. The NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL are litigants alongside the NCAA in the case.
  • In November, the NBA said it would start lobbying Congress. That came just a few weeks before oral arguments in Christie.
  • Oral arguments took place in SCOTUS in December. Many legal analysts agree that it went poorly for the leagues, and that many justices seemed to agree with New Jersey’s side.
  • All of the sudden, state level lobbying pops up in Indiana in January.

The NBA and MLB have moved light years in the space of months

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take a look at the timeline above and surmise that the NBA believes its fortunes have changed.

While New Jersey continued to lose in federal courts in Christie dating back to 2012, there was no reason for the league to hurry on advocating for regulation. Things would happen on the leagues’ timeline. Once Christie got to SCOTUS, things changed. Once oral arguments took place, things changed again.

If the SCOTUS appeal didn’t happen — and if oral arguments had gone poorly for New Jersey — I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t be sitting here discussing the merits of an integrity fee going to the leagues. The necessity of the leagues advocating for state regulation — which the NBA has said previously it did not want — would not be in play.

It all adds up to the NBA, at least, thinking the verdict in Christie is not going to be in its favor. And that scenario would means states will be free to do what they want when it comes to sports betting.

And that’s not to mention the MLB, which has been much quieter on this front than the NBA, although MB’s thinking seemed aligned with the NBA. But soon after NJ’s SCOTUS appeal was granted, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said his league wanted to have input in how regulation would happen in the US.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

Given the reality that it’s confronted with, the NBA shifted tactics quickly. It can’t wait for Congress to act, nor would it likely be able to effect change at the federal level in the short term.

A verdict in Christie is likely to come in June or earlier. A win for NJ in which states can legalize sports betting could quickly make the possibility of federal regulation obsolete. If the leagues want to be involved in sports betting regulation — and to get a cut from it — their time is now, and the place is in the state legislatures.

The appearance of state lobbying on behalf of the NBA and MLB is simply the latest signpost that the sports betting landscape is about to undergo a seismic shift in the US.

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.