It happens during hockey season. It happens during football season. It most definitely happens during the Olympics. Betting on the outcome of athletic matches is nothing new to Americans, although the only place in the U.S. that it can be done legally, and to an unlimited extent, is Nevada. Nevertheless, Americans across the country spend an estimated $500 billion per year betting on sports. New Jersey politicians, led by Governor Chris Christie, are hoping to cash in on this multi-billion dollar industry by making theirs the second U.S. state to legalize unlimited sports gambling.
Sports Gambling: Everybody's Doing It
The fact that sports betting is a multi-billion industry does not mean all of the money is wagered in Nevada. To the contrary, experts believe that Americans in all 50 states are illegally wagering money on athletics on a daily basis. Some might do it on their lunch breaks by the water cooler. Others might do it online. No matter where the money is wagered, it's cash that Christie feels could be turned into valuable revenue for New Jersey.
Gambling Revenue Helps Struggling Economies
Globally, the act of gambling is growing in popularity. A practical reason exists for this: In today's depressed economy, more and more nations are realizing they stand to gain revenue by legalizing casino and online gaming. All over the world, new casinos are being erected and strict online gambling regulations relaxed in an effort to channel the fountain of revenue free market gambling provides. The U.S. is no exception.
Online Betting: A Sign of the Times
Online betting, once completely forbidden, is now legal in three states: Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. To some people it seems like a natural progression that, since online betting is now permitted in New Jersey, sports betting should follow suit and become sanctioned by the government too.
Betting Opportunities: Not for Every State
Technically, the citizens of only four states are permitted to engage in athletic betting at this time: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. This is due to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, otherwise known as the "Bradley Act." Nevada is the only state that allows this type of gambling to an unlimited extent, meaning that bookies can legally take bets on match outcomes as well as side wagers like a certain player's statistics or point accumulations.
Politicians Challenge the Bradley Act
Politicians from other states have taken issue with the fairness of the Bradley Act, questioning why the citizens of four states are permitted to wager on athletics while citizens in the other 46 states are not. In 2009, New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniack introduced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Bradley Act. Politicians from Rhode Island, Missouri, and California have echoed Lesniack's sentiments, calling for a re-examination of the law. Governor Christie's current push for legalization is likely to reinforce the work these politicians are doing.
Mixed Feelings About Legal Sports Gambling
Some Americans support the legalization of sports wagering in New Jersey. They view it as one of the first steps in a natural progression that will ultimately lead to nationwide legalized sports gambling. Other Americans fear that the legalization of this activity in New Jersey, and ultimately the entire country, could bring negative consequences to Americans.
The following are some of the most common "pro" and "con" arguments for the legalization of sports wagering in New Jersey and beyond:
Pro: Revenue Stimulation
Legalizing this type of gambling would bring undercover sports gamblers out into the light. The public celebration of this type of gambling would stimulate a revenue stream that is already estimated to be worth $500 billion per year. Hurting state and city economies would benefit from this.
Con: Possible Harm to Integrity of Athletics
Athletics fans might lose sight of the true meaning of sports, falling prey instead to the hypnotizing power of the almighty dollar. Instead of focusing on teamwork, camaraderie, and all the other positive benefits of athletics, players and fans alike would concern themselves too much with gambling stakes.
Pro: No Harm to Sports Integrity
The integrity of sports would not be harmed in any way because sports betting already happens, albeit illegally. By legalizing sports betting, the value of the games would not be lost.
Con: Enhanced Foul Play
The question of whether lost/won games were "fixed" would become a hot issue where it wasn't before. Suspicious fans might find themselves asking, "Why did Player #94 drop the ball? Did someone bribe him to do so? Was this game fixed?"
Pro: Foul Play Not an Issue
Some say that fixed games would not be any more common in the case of legalized sports gambling than they are now. In 2007, an NBA referee admitted that he tipped gamblers as to which team they should bet on. Just like sports gambling occurs whether it is legal or not, game fixing would occur whether sports gambling was legal or not.
Con: Sports Belongs to Leagues, Not Gamblers
Legalizing this type of wagering would put too much focus on bookies and not enough on the athletes themselves. "They're our games, after all," Paul Clement, legal representative for sports leagues opposed to the legalization, told a judge in a recent court hearing.
Pro: Sins Washed Clean
Americans who bet on athletics illegally could once again become honest men and women. Furthermore, their honesty would help stimulate the country's economy.
Pro: Constitutionality of the Bradley Act No Longer in Question
Although the Bradley Act was introduced with the protection of the athletics industry in mind, it was done in an inconsistent manner that favored four states, including Nevada. Politicians have been questioning this inequality since 2009. Legalizing sports gambling would nullify the Bradley Act, ending the time and resource drain caused by politicians who challenge the bill.
The case of whether to legalize sports wagering in New Jersey is currently being pursued in federal court. If Christie wins, at least five other states leaderships have indicated they will pursue similar legislation for their areas.