The big news in sports this week has nothing to do with the NBA playoffs or any other games. Instead, it’s a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that removed federal restrictions on how states handle sports gambling.
If only a fraction of the predictions since the ruling come true, sports betting is about to enter a massive growth phase. Or, more accurately, a lot of the estimated $100 billion to $150 billion a year wagered on sports will be bet legally — into the waiting arms of state and federal tax collectors and perhaps even the leagues themselves.
The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling said a 1992 law that allowed sports gambling only in Nevada was unconstitutional because each state should be allowed to decide the matter for itself. Mississippi, one of the country’s largest casino markets, has a significant interest in this case.
In fact, the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission said the agency is almost finished with rules that would govern sports betting at the state’s casinos. Including a couple of required waiting periods, Mississippi could be a home for sports gambling as early as August — which just happens to be right before football season starts.
Nobody in Mississippi sees sports betting as the game-changer that casinos were in the 1990s. A tourism association official does not foresee a lot of revenue coming directly from the bets. Instead, casinos envision the new gambling as another way to attract visitors, who then presumably will spend money on lodging, food and other gambling.
As it stands now, Mississippi’s sports betting — at least the legal version of it — will be confined to casinos. But since the Supreme Court is letting a genie out of the bottle, it is impossible to envision this action being restricted to casinos.
More likely, the future of legal sports betting, as well as plenty of other forms of gambling, will involve the Internet. If casinos or other companies really want to take a larger share of business, they’ll figure out how to create websites that allow members to place all sorts of bets on their smartphones.
As the Gaming Commission noted, this won’t be a serious job creator, but if sports gambling really is a $150 billion enterprise, governments will figure out how to get their cut of it. As they should. After all, winning gamblers do not deserve the tax exemption they now enjoy.
Equally interesting is the likelihood that professional sports leagues will try to get a percentage of the betting revenue. The NFL and its peers have opposed gambling for years, contending that its impact could affect the integrity of the game. (Because integrity is the first thing that comes to mind about pro sports when yet another player accused of beating up his girlfriend remains employed.)
The real entertainment will be if the NCAA, which is defending to the death its system of having amateur athletes generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year with little compensation, argues that it too deserves a share of legal gambling revenue.