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Will Nevada Lose Jobs If U.S. Sports Betting Is Legalized?

If you want to bet on sports legally in this country, you have to be in Nevada.

But there’s a chance Nevada could lose that exclusivity.

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case related to sports betting this fall. The case comes from New Jersey, where voters said they wanted sports betting, but the courts said no.

Now if the Supreme Court says the lower court can't interfere with the state's decision, it might open the doors for other states to legalize sports betting.

And in an odd twist, the court’s decision could even affect federal law related to legal marijuana.

"This case centralizes on whether the federal government through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, also known as PASPA can prevent a state from essentially decriminalizing sports betting," Jennifer Roberts with the UNLV Boyd School of Law's new gaming law department said. "New Jersey has a sports betting prohibition on their state law books and what the question is, in this case, is whether the federal government can prevent New Jersey from repealing that prohibition."

Daniel Wallach is a gaming attorney as well. He said at the heart of the case is the tension between the federal government and state sovereignty.

"And whether Congress can restrain the ability of states to repeal or modify their own laws regarding private conduct. This could transcend sports betting and you look at the marijuana decriminalization laws there's a direct parallel there," Wallach said.

Wallach said this case could impact a lot of other state policies around the country. 

If the High Court reverses the lower court ruling, essentially allowing states to decriminalize sports betting, it could actually help Nevada's sports betting industry, which last year raked in a record-breaking $4 billion, according to David Schwartz, the director for UNLV Center for Gaming Research.

"I think if you have it accepted legally more broadly across the U.S. you'll have a bigger pool of potential sports bettors. So, I think it will probably end up helping Nevada's sports betting," he said.

Schwartz pointed to what happened with online poker. Before poker was available to play online, casinos were closing down poker rooms. However, when online casinos started offering poker, the game exploded and those poker rooms returned. 

The other problem with a ban on sports betting is that so many other forms of gambling are allowed around the country, Schwartz said. It seems unfair to ban betting on sports.

"Why can somebody buy a $1,000 worth of instant lottery tickets and they can't place a bet on a football game or a baseball game," he said, "I think that's the big question there."

Another big question that supporters of legal sports betting, including the American Gaming Association, have is why would the sports leagues want to keep it illegal? Wallach said the best way to keep games clean is to legalize gambling on them.

"If the core concern of the professional leagues is to safeguard the integrity of the game and to promote integrity and to avoid match-fixing, wouldn't you want to have it take place in a regulated environment where the wagering and the data and everything surrounding the transactions can be monitored almost in a stock exchange kind of regulated environment," he said.  

(Editor's note: This interview originally aired June 2017)

David Schwartz, director, UNLV Center for Gaming Research; Jennifer Roberts, UNLV Boyd School of Law, Gaming Law; Daniel Wallach, gaming attorney

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.