If popular opinion is any indicator, the time has never been better for the United States to make a push to legalize sports betting throughout the country. With a few notable exceptions, wagering on sports has been illegal for almost a quarter of a century in the country thanks to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (known as PASPA), and until recently the majority of citizens supported the law.
A year after PASPA was first passed, a poll conducted by the Washington Post in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts Lowell found that only 41% of the 1,000 people polled approved of legalizing sports betting, with 56% of respondents disapproving of the legalization of betting on sports.
An updated poll was conducted by the same institutions as the original poll earlier this year, and when the results were released on September 26 they showed that over the last 25 years American attitudes toward sports betting have drastically shifted.
The shift resulted in a more than total inversion of the results from two and a half decades before. The 2017 poll, conducted in August, showed that modern Americans approve of sports gambling legalization at a 55% clip, while only 33% of respondents disapprove of such a change.
Attitudes changed to make sports betting more socially acceptable in America, with the most pronounced change being in those that disapprove of legalization. Whereas the percentage of those that fell under that category in 1993 represented over half the country, now barely a third of American adults feel that way.
This poll result comes at a crucial time for sports betting in the US. For years the state of New Jersey has been trying to get sports betting legalized in their state, and at present they may be closer than ever to success. The Unites States Supreme Court is the highest legal authority in the country, and they typically only agree to hear 1% of cases brought to them.
And surprisingly, the New Jersey’s case made the cut for an upcoming SCOTUS session. At present the case, known as Christie v. NCAA, will most likely be heard by the court in the fall before a final ruling is made sometime in 2018. Just reaching the Supreme Court represents a victory for New Jersey in their lengthy legal battle with the federal government, as it puts the state a single court ruling away from actual, literal victory.
While no one is certain how the Supreme Court will rule thanks to the general murkiness of gambling as it relates to political belief as well as the complex ruling histories of the justices on the court, early analysis suggests a positive outcome for New Jersey and all other states that wish to legalize sports betting.
So what would a legislative victory mean for New Jersey and the United States as a whole? At present a number of other states are eyeing up pro-betting legislation of their own, with lawmakers in Michigan, New York, and South Carolina already having introduced bills that would allow their states to adopt various sports wagering systems should the Supreme Court strike down PASPA.
Were that to happen, legalized sports betting would be accessible to citizens in any state that wishes to introduce legislation allowing it. At present only four states have the right to offer legal sports betting of any kind thanks to exemptions that were carved out when PASPA was first passed. Nevada, home to America’s gambling capital of Las Vegas, is the only one with traditional sports books and pool betting.
Oregon, Delaware, and Montana all have the ability to offer narrowly-focused sports betting games through their state lotteries. At present Delaware and Montana both take advantage of their exemption, while Oregon eliminated their own program in 2007 in a successful attempt to get the National Collegiate Athletic Association to end a gambling-related ban on hosting certain events in the state.
If New Jersey's case proves successful; the floodgates may very well be opened across the United States as a whole. Some estimates say that as many as 32 of the country’s 50 states would likely offer some form of regulated sports wagering to their citizens within five years of such a decision, making sports betting readily accessible to the majority of America’s more than 320 million citizens.
If legalized betting does reach such levels it would represent a new market in the American economy worth $6 billion, a number with the potential to more than double should each and every state in the country legalize sports betting. Currently, offshore betting sites and casinos take in $60 billion from United States citizens, generating around $3 billion in revenue from those bets.