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June 27, 2022

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In Our View: Upping Ante on Gambling

Supreme Court’s sports betting decision raises questions about gaming’s growth

The Columbian
Published:

Sorry, but no dice; it would be premature for sports fans in Clark County to make a trip to the local casino with the intention of placing a bet on the Seahawks or Trail Blazers or Timbers. But in the wake of a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington and other states will need to ask some hard questions about sports betting and the role of gambling in American society.

On Monday, the court ruled 6-3 in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is unconstitutional. The law prohibits sports gambling with the exceptions of Nevada, which has licensed sports bookmakers; and Oregon, Montana, and Delaware, which had sports-related lotteries when the law was passed. Oregon has since dropped organized sports gambling.

While the ruling has piqued the interest of sports fans, gamblers, and state governments, it will be awhile before Washington considers rolling the dice on sports gambling. Changing the state’s anti-gaming laws would require a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature or a referendum on the ballot. As Chris Stearns of the Washington State Gambling Commission told The Seattle Times: “Washington is still a pretty conservative state as far as gambling goes. And this is entirely, 100 percent in the hands of the Legislature. So nothing can happen, obviously, until next year at the earliest.”

In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

Given the public’s thirst for gambling and the appetite of state governments for gambling revenue, it will not be long before numerous states sweeten the pot for sports fans. Americans wagered more than $70 billion on state lotteries in 2016, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. Considering that minors cannot legally gamble and that most adults never play the lottery, the per-capita average of more than $250 is stunning.

As columnist George Will of The Washington Post has written: “Gambling has swiftly transformed from social disease into social policy. A generation ago, legalized gambling was rare and generally stigmatized.” Now it is viewed as a revenue bonanza for states, with Washington’s Lottery bringing in about $676 million last year. The state kept more than $250 million of that for various programs, with the payout to “winners” amounting to 62.5 percent of lottery revenue.

Whether or not sports gambling is in the cards for Native American casinos — such as ilani near La Center — will depend upon the Legislature’s approval and whether parameters such as tax rates make it a wise business decision for the casinos.

But while many states will think they hit the jackpot with the Supreme Court ruling, it is important to ponder whether the growth of legalized gambling has been beneficial for the United States. As The Columbian has written editorially, “For generations, the American Dream stated that if you are smart and you work hard and you make your own breaks, you can improve your lot in life. The proliferation of lotteries has helped to bastardize that ethos, changing the American Dream into one that is reliant upon the largesse of a series of pingpong balls.”

Given all of that, it will be interesting to see where the chips fall when the Legislature considers legalized sports gambling.

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