Oregon Once Conducted 'Sports Action' Game Through State Lottery
Legal Sports Report

Could Sports Betting Return To Oregon If NCAA Tournament Heads To Vegas?

Oregon Sports Action
The state of Oregon hasn’t had “Sports Action” — a form of sports betting once allowed in the state — since 2007. But that could easily change in the coming years, depending on what the NCAA does.

Oregon, Vegas and the NCAA

Recently, NCAA president Mark Emmert indicated it was considering allowing NCAA “championship” level events in Las Vegas; the college organization has kept its events out of Las Vegas because sports betting is allowed in the state.

But NCAA-level events could be on their way back to Vegas across all sports, according to a report at ESPN.com. Three men’s basketball conferences conferences — the Pac-12, the West Coast Conference and the Mountain West Conference — all stage their league tournaments in Las Vegas already.

From ESPN:

Emmert … said there have been “robust” conversation about playing NCAA tournament games there, though he wouldn’t go so far as to say his membership is softening its stance.

“I think the membership is trying to figure out what’s the right way to approach this issue again,” Emmert said. “Where does the membership want to be in this space? How do you manage what often seems to be a hypocritical stance? Let’s talk about it.”

What does that have to do with Oregon? Sports Action — sports betting run by the Oregon Lottery — was outlawed after the 2007 NFL season so that the state could host NCAA tournament games. Presumably, if Las Vegas is allowed to host NCAA events, the NCAA could — and probably should — soften its stance regarding Sports Action in the state.

The backstory of Sports Action in Oregon

Sports Action was a parlay game introduced by the Oregon Lottery in 1989, at first only for NFL games, and then later for NBA games. Oregon — home to the Portland Trail Blazers, was sued by the NBA to discontinue the NBA Sports Action; the lottery stopped the NBA games after one year.

The NCAA was also unhappy with Sports Action, and refused to hold basketball NCAA tournament games in the state while Sports Action was still allowed in the state, despite the fact that it did not take wagers on college basketball games.

Eventually, the state of Oregon relented, passing a bill in 2005 to end Sports Action by 2007; the NCAA almost immediately gave Oregon an NCAA tournament regional, as Portland hosted early-round games in 2009. (Interestingly, the NCAA has held its track championships in Eugene, the home of Nike, during that timeframe — and will again in 2016 — although obviously there is little to no wagering on track.)

Oregon is also one of four states that were grandfathered in under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a bill that effectively bans sports betting in all but four states (Nevada, Delaware and Montana) are the others. The law, passed in 1992, allowed all forms of sports betting that already existed in states to continue.

Sports Action could make a return in Oregon, given its PASPA exemption.

What’s the path back for Sports Action?

The reintroduction isn’t as simple as turning on a switch; a lot of things would have to happen in order for Oregon to offer Sports Action again.

The NCAA

First, the NCAA would have to give its permission for the move. Of course, if the NCAA goes to Vegas for championship events, it would be pretty hypocritical for the NCAA to insist that Sports Action could not return in Oregon. Many would argue that the NCAA isn’t averse to hypocritical stances, however.

The lottery

Chuck Baumann, Senior Public Affairs Officer for the Oregon Lottery, told Legal Sports Report that the lottery would like to bring Sports Action back, given the chance.

“We essentially shut it down and set it aside [in 2007],” Baumann said. “Even though we’re not offering it now, we could offer it again. We’re not formulating a plan to do that at this moment, however. But the possibility does exist that we could bring it back.”

Baumann also believes Sports Action would do even better today than it did in its first iteration, given the interest in sports betting and fantasy sports nationwide.

“With this DraftKings, FanDuel world we’re in, this would be kind of a very easy thing for people to grasp,” Baumann said.

The state government

But it obviously takes more than just the will of the Lottery to bring it back, as well. Since Sports Action was legislated out of existence, it would take a new bill.

“We’d have to get the green light from the governor and the legislature,” Baumann said. “It’s truly a political question, too.”

Given that Sports Action was a profitable endeavor for the state that raised money for education in the state, it would seem to be a favorite to get support from public officials, although there are other variables in play than just the bottom line.

The leagues

Then there is the matter of the professional sports leagues, who have opposed Sports Action in the past.

  • The NBA — once an opponent of sports betting — is now openly calling for legalization and regulation of wagering via Commissioner Adam Silver. How the NBA might react to Sports Action’s return is unknown, but as long as it only includes NFL games, it doesn’t seem like the NBA would care either way.
  • The NFL would appear to be the biggest impediment. Commissioner Roger Goodell remains steadfastly against the proliferation of sports betting. The NFL once threatened to keep any prospective franchise out of Portland as long as Sports Action remained. However, the chance of Portland ever becoming an NFL city remain extremely unlikely.
  • Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred have softened their stance on sports betting, and would not appear to be an impediment.

Could the leagues be an impediment to Sports Action coming back? It’s certainly possible, although the environment for sports betting has changed a lot in the past decade — including the proliferation of daily fantasy sports sites, and relationships that the leagues and franchises have with the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel.

The leagues have also teamed up to stop New Jersey from offering sports betting in an ongoing court case, but Oregon, as grandfathered in by PASPA, is in a wholly different position.

What’s next for Sports Action?

Everything likely hinges on what the NCAA does. If NCAA championship events head to Las Vegas, Sports Action would be a favorite to return within a couple of years of that happening. If the NCAA stays out of Las Vegas, Sports Action will continue to collect dust in Oregon’s closet.

The other variable is the NJ sports betting case. If the state wins the case, and is allowed to start offering sports wagering, then other states could start following suit by passing their own bills. And it’s unlikely the NCAA ban on events could possible extend to every state that passes sports betting legislation — especially if larger states start passing sports betting laws.

But for Oregon, the path forward appears to be more straight forward than in any other state.

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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.