WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court struck down a 26-year-old federal ban on sports betting on Monday, allowing states to decide whether they want to allow legal wagers on football, basketball, baseball, hockey and other games. Here’s a look at what that means:
So when can I bet on sports?
Soon, depending on where you live. Officials in three states — Delaware, Mississippi and New Jersey — have pledged to start accepting legal bets within weeks. Three others already had laws on the books authorizing sports betting in the event of a favorable Supreme Court decision, although there likely will be more debate about the specifics. More than a dozen other states either have active legislation to authorize sports gambling or have considered it in the past. Expect those discussions to ramp up, along with more aggressive lobbying in those states by sports book operators and the professional leagues.
Who will accept bets?
It will vary from state to state. Some have authorized commercial casinos to open sports books, while some will offer sports betting products through their state lotteries. Aside from the few states that have worked out those details already, lawmakers and regulators will be deciding whether to allow bets to be placed at casinos, horse racing tracks, off-track betting parlors or even stadiums, and whether to allow online and mobile betting.
What does this mean for the leagues?
The four major U.S. professional leagues and the NCAA spent years fighting New Jersey’s challenge to the constitutionality of the federal ban. Nonetheless, the commissioners of the NBA and Major League Baseball have both said they’re open to the prospect of legal gambling — on their terms. The NBA and MLB have been lobbying states to give a small percentage of the amount wagered back to the league offices. They say they deserve a cut because gambling is entirely dependent on their business, and they need to spend more money to guard against potentially devastating game-fixing scandals. Casino interests argue that Nevada does just fine regulating gambling and flagging suspicious behavior without sending money directly to the leagues.
The NFL, the nation’s most popular spectator sport, will have to reckon with its longstanding opposition to gambling, which many critics say is hypocritical because the league encourages fantasy sports, publishes detailed injury reports that help bookies set odds and schedules several games every season in London, where in-stadium betting is legal. League owners also approved the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, gambling’s mecca in the United States. With the fight against expanded gambling lost for now, the NFL could use its powerful lobbying muscle to partner with the NBA and MLB and seek new federal regulations.
Gambling proponents argue that the leagues will benefit through sponsorships and other tie-ins with sports book operators and enhanced fan interest in their games.
“I think everybody who owns top-four professional sports team just basically saw the value of their team double at least,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told CNBC on Monday.
How will this change the fan experience?
Once sports betting becomes more widely legal, fans can expect to have the opportunity to bet on their phones during games, a common practice in countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Television ratings and subscriptions to streaming services could increase because fans are more interested in games that don’t involve their hometown teams. And discussion of point spreads, over/unders and prop bets could become more common among broadcasters and journalists as they seek to remain relevant to how fans are thinking about sports.
Will illegal bookies go out of business?
Probably not, said Kate Lowenhar-Fisher, a Las Vegas-based attorney who chairs the gaming practice at Dickinson Wright. Illegal bookies have longstanding relationships with their customers, some of whom prefer the anonymity of gambling offshore, and they don’t have to pay taxes or fees. Plus, with states legalizing sports betting in a piecemeal fashion, illegal operators will continue to be more convenient for many bettors.
Savvy businesspeople are also likely to create new gambling products that aren’t specifically addressed by state laws, just as daily fantasy sports companies did while the federal ban was in place.
“Americans will continue to be entrepreneurial, especially finding a way to evade all the compliance costs, tax costs, regulatory costs,” Lowenhar-Fisher said. “That’s exactly what the fantasy sports operators tried to do — offer sports betting without having to deal with all the things a sports book operator has to deal with.”