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Sports Betting Case Makes It to the Big League: the U.S. Supreme Court

It was a surprise to many when the U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will hear New Jersey's challenge to the federal ban on sports betting.

By Mary Perez

It was a surprise to many when the U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will hear New Jersey's challenge to the federal ban on sports betting.

The case will be argued in the fall, when the justices said they will review a lower court ruling that prohibits sports betting at casinos and racetracks in New Jersey -- and ultimately in most states in the country under the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. That was 25 years ago and the same year as the first casino opened in Biloxi.

Sports betting is legal, however, in Nevada and to an extent in three other states that had some form of sports betting before the federal law was passed.

The American Gaming Association has relentlessly pushed to get Congress to repeal PASPA, recently establishing an American Sports Betting Coalition to build a system that protects the rights of states and fans and the integrity of sports. Geoff Freeman, AGA president and CEO, said Tuesday he believes the Supreme Court decision to review the law increases the likelihood of congressional hearings on the law this fall. A Supreme Court decision could come as late as this time next year, he said.

A decision in favor of New Jersey would be a big opportunity for Mississippi, which is one of five states that supported New Jersey in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The Mississippi Legislature took another step this year to give the state a competitive advantage, said Rep. Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi. House Bill 967 legalized fantasy sports in Mississippi and also opened the door for sports betting.

"We did make modifications to Gaming Control Act that would allow for the Gaming Commission to regulate sports betting if it were ever to be overturned at the federal level," he said.

Since the Mississippi Legislature has already determined that sports betting is legal, that puts the state ahead of the game should the Supreme Court declare the federal law against sports betting unconstitutional and leave it for states to decide.

"I think that opens up an opportunity to offer it as a legal game," said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Sports betting would only be legal at a casino, he said, and as the state did when legalizing casinos, he believes Mississippi will look to Nevada as a good model of regulation for sport betting.

In terms of economic potential, "We feel this could be another 1990s for the state of Mississippi," DeLano said. That was a decade of boom in construction, jobs and tax revenue for Coast cities and state.

Mississippi is preparing to be among the first states to capture some of the $150 billion wagered each year in illegal sports betting should the federal ban end, he said.

"We want to be ready for any new investment that we can do in a responsible way," he said, and that includes a state lottery.

" I would be surprised if we don't get it this coming session," he said.

New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who has led that state's effort to legalize sports gambling, told the Associated Press a win for the state would give an additional boost to casinos.

"Atlantic City is going to be packed when we win this case," said Lesniak, who first introduced legislation to overturn the ban in 2009. "Sports betting will lead to people staying for several days, not just playing a few hours and going home. During football season, the NCAA tournament, the World Cup, people will be flocking to Atlantic City to bet on them."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

(c)2017 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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