In early August, the MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL and NCAA sued New Jersey claiming the state’s plan to allow sports betting violates federal law and threatens the “character and integrity” of sporting events.
The leagues say New Jersey’s proposed legislation to allow sports betting is “in clear and flagrant violation” of Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Enacted by Congress in 1992, PASPA prohibits betting on collegiate and professional games across the country with the exception of four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. New Jersey officials contend that PASPA is unfair because it is not applied equally to all states.
New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, who signed a law in January legalizing sports gambling in New Jersey’s twelve casinos and five racetracks explained, “I don’t believe it’s up to the federal government to decide what happens within the borders of a state on this issue, especially when they permit other states to do it.” All eyes are on the lawsuit because if New Jersey succeeds PASPA would be nullified, opening the door for other states. A bill similar to New Jersey’s is currently pending in the California State Assembly and depending on how the New Jersey case plays out, other states may follow suit.
The leagues argue that allowing sports gambling in New Jersey “would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition.” The leagues are committed to quelling the spread of sports betting because it “undermines the public’s faith and confidence in the character of amateur and professional team sports.”
The leagues’ argument would have some merit if not for the fact that gambling is already permitted in four other states. How will legalizing gambling in New Jersey undermine the integrity of competition anymore than it already has been by the abundance of sports betting that already takes place in Nevada? Furthermore, the legalization of sports betting recognizes the inevitable – that people will gamble on sports whether they are in Vegas or not, whether it is legal or illegal.
While the integrity of competition may be a legitimate concern, game fixing is unlikely to occur. Professional athletes stand to make far too much money by playing well rather than by fixing a game. Amateur athletes, on the other hand, are a different story and it is not surprising that the NCAA is involved in the suit. It is the NCAA’s unique vulnerability to scandal that has led the NCAA to work so tirelessly to discourage gambling on college sports. Logically, the temptation to get involved in gambling is going to be greater at the amateur level where the NCAA refuses to pay student athletes. Unlike the pros, college athletes can significantly improve their financial situation by fixing games.
Still the solution is simple. Allow professional sports betting and continue to prohibit gambling on college sports. If gambling is legalized, it can be regulated, it can be monitored and it can be done right. The bottom line is that there are too few reasons not to allow sports betting. Gambling generates interest in sports and gets people to watch. Why wouldn’t the professional sports leagues want this?