A bit of advice for Washington gamblers counting their bankroll in hopes of wagering on sports games in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states can allow that:
Don’t bet on being able to bet legally on a baseball, football or basketball game any time soon. That is, unless you’re planning a trip to Vegas or one of the states that have taken early steps to get that kind of gambling up and running.
The court ruled a long-standing federal law that keeps sports gambling out of most states is unconstitutional. There are things the federal government can’t tell states to do or not to do, and this is one of them, a comfortable majority of the court said.
The case involved a fight between New Jersey, which is trying to boost its casino industry, and various sport organizations like Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which want to keep gambling out of their games. The federal government sided with the sports leagues.
Under the federal law that the court overturned Monday, only Nevada was allowed to take legal bets on the outcome of professional and collegiate sporting events. New Jersey had tried and failed to crack through that law once before to put Atlantic City on par with Vegas or at least give them better odds against other casinos in the Northeast. This time it found the right parlay of statutory language and legal arguments to have its sports betting law upheld.
The Associated Press said a race track in New Jersey could start taking sports bets in two weeks. Mississippi and West Virginia also have been preparing for sports betting, and could be taking bets by the fall. Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York have also made some early moves toward that kind of wagering.
But Monday’s court ruling doesn’t wipe out individual state laws against betting on sports events, which Washington and Idaho both have.
Dave Trujillo, director of the Washington Gambling Commission, said in a news release the decision is significant and will likely “change the landscape of gambling in the United States.”
The commission staff is still analyzing the ruling but the initial reaction is that the Legislature or the voters would have to authorize sports betting, spokeswoman Heather Songer said. Under an article in the State Constitution, any change in the gambling laws must pass by a 60 percent majority, whether from legislators or at the ballot box, she said.
Rep. Cary Condotta, of Wenatchee, who serves as ranking Republican on the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, said the court seems to be saying that gambling is essentially a state’s rights issue, but the change isn’t automatic.
Most of the push for expanding gambling in Washington state has come from groups that want to make online poker legal and those that want to allow betting on Fantasy Sports teams, said Condotta, who has been on that committee for 16 years.
“There hasn’t been anything really that organized on sports betting,” he said. A push for that type of betting would likely come from the tribal casinos, if they decide they want to expand into that, he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.