A Supreme Court ruling Monday paves a path for sports gambling to be legal in Alabama, should the state or Alabama's Indian reservations choose to go that route.
In Murphy v. NCAA, the court voted 7-2 to strike down the federal ban on sports gambling. In their ruling, the court found the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sport Protection Act, which barred sports gambling with a few exceptions, including in Nevada, to be unconstitutional.
The ruling could also lead to the legalization of popular fantasy sports sites like Fan Duel.
New Jersey has looked to legalize sports gambling since 2012. The state has been sued by most professional sports leagues and the NCAA.
The opinion of the court, written by Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito, stated that states cannot be forced to carry out a federal law. The pro-gambling side cited the Tenth Amendment as its main argument, while the anti-gambling side cited the supremacy clause.
New Jersey is expected to be the first state to take advantage of the ruling within weeks. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among those expected to follow soon after because of state bills proposed in the past year.
There are four approaches that states have taken to gaming: allowing commercial casinos, tribal-run casinos, both or neither. In Alabama, casinos run by sovereign Indian tribes are the only gambling allowed. Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama, operates three gaming casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.
The casinos would theoretically be able to start allowing sports gambling if the Poarch Creek Indians were to legalize it in their tribe’s law.
“The choice rests with the tribes,” said Will Green, senior director for strategic communications for the American Gaming Association.
AGA is the premier national trade group representing the $240 billion casino industry. Members of AGA include commercial and tribal casino operators, suppliers and other groups associated with the gaming industry.
It is not clear at the moment if Alabama would step in because sports gambling is still illegal at the state level.
Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, said the court’s decision leaves a lot for state legislators to consider.
“I would just know and hope that all my colleagues will get as educated as possible to start looking at the issues and that we don’t jump to any action that would, long-term affect Alabama in a negative way,” Lovvorn said.
Green said the ruling by the Supreme Court is important because gambling on sports is going to happen regardless of whether it’s legal.
“It’s pretty obvious, especially in SEC country, that betting is going on at colleges,” Green said. “I think we’d all be naïve to think otherwise.”
AGA estimates that $150 billion is wagered annually in the United States, only 3 percent of which is done so legally.
Green told The Plainsman that gambling has been huge among the college-age population for years, even though it has been illegal. He said the education gap needs to be raised.
“Think how many students at Auburn are betting on their phone on a Caribbean website, and they don’t even know, a lot of times, that’s illegal,” Green said. “They don’t know that it’s illegal for that website to accept their bet. Think how many Auburn students are betting with their guy, their bookie, wherever that is. And many of them don’t know that it’s not legal.”
Green also said the Supreme Court’s ruling was important because it paves a path to eliminate the dangerous black market created by illegal sports gambling. He encouraged Alabama residents to travel to Mississippi because it is the closest state that will likely have state-sponsored gambling in the near future.
“Betting on convenient, shady websites is not legal, and it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal, but it fuels the black market, and it fuels criminal enterprises, and it doesn’t protect consumers,” Green said. “College students are tempted with that choice every day. Think about not betting them on the illegal market. For the Iron Bowl next year, drive to Mississippi.”
Nevada received a record $4.9 billion in wagers in 2017. The revenue is expected to be substantially higher in states such as New Jersey and New York because of much larger populations.
Alabama has nearly two million more people than Nevada, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Sen. Tom Whatley, representing the Auburn area, said the biggest takeaway from the court’s ruling had to do with a bill to legalize fantasy sports that he has handled for the past few years. The bill would allow residents to wager money on fantasy teams.
One of the objections to the bill was the ambiguity of the federal ban. Whatley said this could clear up one of the objections and lead to action in March 2019, the next time Alabama legislature is in session.
“My perspective is not on gambling,” Whatley said. “The only thing I’ve handled the past couple years is fantasy sports playing because that’s something that my constituents play, usually on a weekend afternoon among friends. It requires some type of skill to be able to play it, and it’s something that people enjoyed doing once a week.”
Whatley said he was pleased with the court’s ruling because it expanded the rights reserved to the state under the Tenth Amendment.