This is the first of a two-part series looking at the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that tossed out a 1992 law banning sports gambling in all but a few locations across the country.
Today we’ll examine what the court decided, how it affects Idaho and eastern Washington, and the current state of legal gambling here.
On Friday we’ll look at potential long-term impact in the region. Could Idaho — or Washington, for that matter — actually license sports betting establishments?
By STEVE CAMERON
Sports betting is not a federal crime.
Most members of the public, in Idaho and elsewhere, have long believed that — with the sole exception of a fling in Nevada — this country’s law forbids wagering on things like NFL football.
This week they learned differently, when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of New Jersey in that state’s suit to accept wagers on sports events.
The court’s more conservative members actually settled the case, which they considered a states’ rights issue.
Basically, the court said that if Congress has not made a specific law that adequately covers any action, then any state has the right to decide the matter for itself.
Since the court case involved sports betting — and the possibility that billions of dollars could be tossed into America’s legal gambling structure — almost all reaction has been to that part of the case.
For instance: “Will Idaho have legal sports wagering? Where? When?”
That was a natural reaction to the court decision, and it will echo across various states.
Consider: Gaming industry experts believe somewhere between $150 billion to $200 billion was bet on sports events in the United States last year — only 3 percent of that legally, most of it in Las Vegas.
That leaves an awful lot of money up for grabs if and when states grant licenses to casinos and other betting parlors.
There actually was more to the court’s decision, however, than simply the issue of New Jersey’s right to take sports bets.
The fact that the decision was exceptionally broad may turn out to be quite important — not to mention popular in Idaho and other states that have butted heads with the federal government.
We’ll return to the matter of sports betting shortly, but it’s critical to note that this decision, which the media sees almost exclusively as striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), has many more consequences.
It could impact plenty of issues beyond gambling.
For instance, this passage from the Los Angeles Times offers some hints.
“Monday’s opinion may also prove significant on an entirely different front. It bolsters California and other states that are battling the Trump administration over immigration, ‘sanctuary cities’ and recreational marijuana.
“At issue in these disputes is whether California and liberal-leaning states may refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to enforce federal laws on immigration or marijuana.
“In upholding New Jersey’s bid to offer sports betting, the court, led by its conservatives, gave a powerful endorsement to the ‘anti-commandeering’ principle.
“The Constitution ‘did not abolish the sovereign powers of the states,’ said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority. ‘Even where Congress has the authority under the Constitution to pass laws requiring or prohibiting certain acts,’ he said, it may not commandeer the states ‘by directly compelling them to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program.’”
Some of those issues, like immigration and sanctuary cities, may not be popular in Idaho, but the overall scope of the decision will lead to plenty of situations that should play out in favor of states that find themselves in scraps with the federal government.
Meanwhile, the sports betting …
Yes, it’s currently illegal in Idaho and Washington.
In fact, Washington has even stricter laws on some gambling issues than does Idaho. For instance, it’s a felony for our western neighbors to be caught playing online poker.
What happens to all of this in light of the court’s decision, though, remains a mystery.
On Friday, we’ll take a closer look and talk to some people who may be involved in any changes.
Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.