Special Guest Commentary !!!
The NBA’s new, progressive Commissioner, Adam Silver, recently stated that the Association would support legalizing state sponsored sports gambling. This is in stark contrast to the position that former Commissioner David Stern took and one that could ultimately cause Congress to legalize sports gambling.
When New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie attempted to legalize sports gambling just a few years ago in order to revive a dying economy, Stern admonished him for passing a state law that would allow legal gambling on sports. Stern went as far as saying that “New Jersey doesn’t know what it’s doing” and that it’s only trying to make “a buck or two.”
Immediately after New Jersey passed its law, the NBA along with the NFL, NHL, MLB and the NCAA, filed a lawsuit against New Jersey for trying to circumvent the Federal law, Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).
PASPA specifically prohibits states from legalizing sports gambling except for those states who had some form of sports gambling prior to PASPA’s passing. Despite PASPA's clear mandate, Governor Christie forged ahead in favor of trying to help boost his state’s economy along with a struggling casino business in Atlantic City (the 2.4 billion dollar Revel Casino Hotel recently closed its doors).
Governor Christie eventually lost his fight in the United States District Court and then the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed that decision. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case despite having interesting language in a dissent in a prior decision, Shelby County v. Holder, from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Shelby County decision dealt with states being treated equally and Justice Ginsburg directly called into question PASPA’s continued constitutionality for allowing sports gambling in some states, but not others.
New Jersey vowed to find a way to allow sports gambling in its state despite its constant legal setbacks and the NBA may have helped give them a chance. While New Jersey's fight in the court system is over, Congress still has the power to repeal or amend PASPA.
Now that the NBA is effectively supporting New Jersey's position - Commissioner Silver has specifically stated that he understands that struggling states may need to legalize gambling to help their economies - one of New Jersey's strongest opponents can become its greatest ally.
If the NBA’s position starts a domino effect and the other leagues join with them, Congress may be lobbied to change PASPA and Governor Christie's fight might actually see a victorious ending.
As Commissioner Silver has stated, fans enjoy the games more when there is a small wager involved. Why not have both the struggling states (California and Minnesota had planned to pass similar laws as New Jersey prior to the Supreme Court decision) and the professional leagues profit from it as well. So now it’s up to Congress to hopefully roll the dice.
Josh Winnekar, J.D., is an assistant professor of business at Misericordia University.