In fact, the five litigants fighting New Jersey in the sports betting case in front of the of the US Supreme Court — the NCAA, NFL, NHL and the two aforementioned leagues — almost certainly do want to win. The lobbying efforts by two of them is probably more an example of hedging their bets if they lose.
So why do they want to win Murphy vs. NCAA?
Not all of the leagues are on the same page
While the NBA and MLB are in lockstep in what they want to see from sports betting regulation, we’re not at all sure what the other three litigants want. There’s a good chance they would like to see the status quo — a ban on single-game wagering outside of Nevada sports betting — to stay on the books.
The Washington Post story above includes comments from the NFL and NHL, which have historically opposed regulation. Both were pretty vague and non-committal. The NCAA continues to say nothing at all, but it has traditionally opposed legalization as well.
We’re guessing at what those three leagues think. But we can be a bit more certain about what the NBA and MLB want, and why they probably want to still win the case.
State lobbying is off to a slow start
There are a lot of states with either 1. sports betting laws on the books or 2. bills in the works.
On point No. 1, none of those states have anything that the leagues want — things like being able to dictate the source of sports betting data, limit types of bets, or integrity fees. The list:
- Pennsylvania sports betting: The state legalized sports gambling in 2017 before the leagues started lobbying.
- New Jersey sports betting: The leagues will never get any concessions in NJ after years fighting the state in court.
- Mississippi sports betting: State regulators are ready to move forward after the legislature repealed a prohibition in 2017.
- West Virginia sports betting: The leagues got entirely shut out of a recently enacted law.
- New York sports betting: Four commercial casinos are already authorized to take wagers if the ban is struck down. A new bill is being considered.
- Delaware sports betting: The state may try to quickly expand its legal parlay betting system.
And that’s not to mention Nevada, where the leagues are not going to change the existing law.
If you’re counting, that’s six states with sports betting laws the leagues probably hate. In one of them, they could get some of what they want in 2018.
If you’re looking at the scoreboard if you’re the MLB and NBA, you’re playing from way behind right now. Of course, they only started lobbying this year. That being said, they would probably be happy with states not enacting a law at all if it doesn’t have some or all of what they want.
They don’t want a ’50-state solution’
Even though the NBA and MLB are lobbying in states, this is not their preferred method of getting to legalized sports wagering in the US.
At least the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver have long espoused a “federal framework,” and it seems like a good bet that MLB would agree with that stance. If the two leagues could flip a switch and remain in a world where PASPA remains good law, I am guessing they would take that in a heartbeat.
That would mean they would have more control of the timeline for sports betting legalization. If NJ wins and states can legalize it, they’ve lost control entirely.
If the only path to legal wagering is then via Congress — which would then have to repeal and/or alter PASPA — they likely regain control of both the “when” and the “how” for sports wagering. The NBA and MLB will take their chances lobbying Congress, which is tacitly an easier task than trying to influence lawmakers in dozens of states. And one where the leagues probably exert more control.
So do the leagues want to lose in SCOTUS? I’ll bet they still very much want to win.