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Supreme Court Case Could Lead to Pennsylvania Sports Betting

It didn’t get much attention when a Pennsylvania online gambling expansion was passed in October, but it could prove to be a big deal should the federal environment change. We’re talking about sports betting and it just may prove to be one of the more notable parts of the most recent Pennsylvania gambling bill.

Christie vs NCAA could change everything

Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Christie vs NCAA, a case which could determine the future of sports betting in New Jersey as well as Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States.

The case boils down to New Jersey’s desire to offer sports betting, which has been restricted from regulating since the passage of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). It was this law that aimed to prevent the spread of sports betting by permitting sports wagering in states were it was already occurring, but prohibit elsewhere.

Currently, sports betting in the United States is only legally authorized in Nevada. Of course, sports betting is a huge business, whether its for offshore sportsbooks, local bookies or even sports betting between friends. Some estimate the market to be worth up to $400 billion per year.

In Christie vs NCAA, New Jersey is challenging the constitutionality of the law which discriminates most states from offering sports betting.

Despite an long-standing position against sports betting expansion, the NFL and other sports leagues seem to be gradually warming to the idea that authorizing and regulating can result in increased engagement with fans and be mutually beneficial. And because sports betting is ubiquitous and shows no signs of stopping, regulating sports betting will only provide more consumer protections for sports bettors and allow states to collect much needed tax revenue.

So what does this mean for Pennsylvania?

Although the case is effectively between New Jersey and the NCAA, the decision will likely have far-reaching ramifications everywhere. If the Supreme Court rules in New Jersey’s favor, other states would have a new opportunity to offer sports betting.

Many industry observers are predicting that the floodgates could open for legalized sports betting in the country with regulation occurring on a state level.

Certainly, passing sports betting through a state’s legislature is already a challenge (just look at states efforts to pass online poker and casinos over the last four years). But in a world where finding tax dollars has become increasingly important to states and where the NFL has been struggling with a series of controversies, legal sports betting could be just the ticket to get the NFL back on track.

And Pennsylvania already has a huge leg up.

Within the far-reaching gambling expansion that occurred in October is a provision that authorizes sports betting if and when the legal situation in the United States becomes more favorable. Yes, Pennsylvania have effectively already passed sports betting.

The relevant portion located within the legislation:

The Board shall, when federal law is enacted or repealed or a federal court decision is filed that permits a state to regulate sports wagering, publish a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin certifying the enactment or repeal or the filing of the decision.

In addition to this obvious advantage, Pennsylvania’s proximity to New Jersey will also not hurt if New Jersey were to win its case. A merger of a Pennsylvania poker liquidity is likely already being discussed behind the scenes — New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada have already agreed to do just that.

The outlook

In early December, oral arguments were heard in Christie vs NCAA. Observers who were there noted that a majority of the justices appeared to be favorable towards sports betting proponents. Of course, these decisions are nuanced and complicated, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the case to go either way. In an optimistic scenario, Pennsylvania could be well on their way to offering sports betting by late 2018 or 2019.

Despite the hurdles that remain, one can’t help but be hopeful and optimistic, especially considering the position the industry was in just five years ago.

The Supreme Court is expected to make their decision sometime next spring.