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John L. Smith On The Supreme Court Decision To Allow Sports Betting In Every State

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that barred gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

The law known as PASPA, which stands for Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, stopped states from legalizing sports betting. Nevada was the only state where it was completely legal.

New Jersey brought the case to the Supreme Court after it tried to pass a law allowing betting on sports.

Casinos and sports betting operators in Nevada are sure to be thrilled with the change. MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren said in an earnings call last month the company would be ready to take advantage -- if the court ruled to sweep away PASPA. 

"It's an interesting sea change," State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith said, "Sports betting was really the last pariah interest in the gambling industry."

He said many High Court observers predicted the court was going to rule in New Jersey's favor after hearings on the case in December. The problem was the law was not fair to all the states because it allowed Nevada to be grandfathered in.

The ruling allows Congress to take up the topic of regulating sports betting but it can't single out states. 

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So what does the ruling mean for Nevada's near-monopoly?

When states around the country started to allow gambling and Native American tribes started to create casinos on reservations, many people were concerned it would hurt Nevada.

However, not only did the change not hurt Nevada, it introduced casino-style gambling to more people and helped casino companies' bottom lines.

Smith believes the same thing will happen with sports betting when states start allowing it.

"I think -- first of all -- if those states are wise they'll probably rely on a lot hard-won experience and professionalism that Nevada's sportsbook industry offers the customer," he said.

Smith said sportsbooks aren't the place to drop a couple of bucks on a team to win anymore. They now offer more of a festive atmosphere, turning big sporting events like the Super Bowl and March Madness into Mardi Gras.

The country has changed -- a lot -- since PASPA was first passed and signed into law, Smith said.

"What's happening really are a few things. One is America is a lot more like Las Vegas. A lot of gambling is legalized now […] whether that's America growing up or America losing its way -- you can pick 'em," he said.

Cities and states see a way to bring the billions of dollars spent on illegal sports betting into the tax base and leagues see a chance to build excitement and interest, Smith said.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year, and one research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.


John L. Smith, contributor

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