If you're like most sports fans, you probably think the games and competition should be contested on the various fields of play - the manicured green grass of a football or baseball field, the shiny hardwood of a basketball court, or the cold, hard sheets of ice in a hockey arena.
But the reality is, while they don't evoke the emotion or memories that Bucky Dent's home run or Don Larsen's perfect World Series game do, many of the defining moments in sports have taken place inside the antiseptic walls and chambers of the nation's courtrooms. Just when you think you've seen "the big one," along comes another lawsuit that dwarfs the previous ones in its potential impact on fans and participants.
The two most recognizable lawsuits currently winding their way through the court system are the O'Bannon case, seeking to give college athletes a piece of the billions in revenue earned by the NCAA and its partners from players' publicity rights, and the NFL concussion suit, which seeks to compensate former players for debilitating injuries suffered on the field.
A suit that hasn't received the publicity of either O'Bannon or the concussion lawsuit is the one that was filed in August by the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues against the state of New Jersey. The state passed a law last year that would allow legal sports bets at its casinos in Atlantic City and its four horseracing tracks beginning next year. The legislation allows sports wagering in violation of the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). PASPA outlawed sports betting while grandfathering four states, Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware. Nevada is the only state that currently allows single-game betting. The other three allow "parleys," which limit betting to multiple wins rather than a single game.
New Jersey's motivation for challenging PASPA can be summed up in one word: Money. Last year, Nevada took in $2.9 billion in sports wagers. That may sound like a big number, but it pales in comparison to the estimated annual illegal wagers of $380 billion, a figure used by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. With their budgets squeezed from every direction, it's no surprise that states are hungering on the sidelines, anxious to see how New Jersey fares in the litigation that is expected to reach the Supreme Court before it is ultimately resolved.
It should be noted that the feds have yet to take action against New Jersey, apparently content to let the private entities with a stake in the outcome expend time, energy and money before deciding on a course of action. Other states and the federal government aren't the only interested observers of the lawsuit. National and international gambling entities are positioning themselves to take advantage of legal betting should a favorable ruling be forthcoming. And why not? With illegal action making up more than 99 percent of all gambling activity in this country, the potential upside to companies that are poised to move quickly is substantial.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are, like Lance Armstrong, nothing more than two-faced, self-serving bullies. The popularity of the NFL and the NCAA's two premier sports, football and men's basketball, is fueled in large part through gambling, including fantasy leagues. Oregon discontinued its sports lottery after the NCAA threatened to deny the state hosting rights to March Madness games. This is the same NCAA that designated a casino as the host hotel for one of its recent conventions and allows member institutions to solicit sponsorships from gambling interests. The NFL allows teams to endorse and profit from gambling interests while at the same time railing against the specious adverse consequences of legalized gambling. Translation: The league wouldn't benefit monetarily.
The legal system has impacted the sports world more quickly and to a greater extent than rule changes, advances in equipment and training ever have. Will the gambling lawsuit against New Jersey be one of those defining moments? It may be years before we find out, but of one thing you can be certain. Sports betting will be legalized at some point. Someday, we will emulate Europe where sports betting is as easy and common as purchasing a lottery ticket. The only unknowns are when and how it happens.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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