Pro Sports Wary Of Delaware's Gambling Bid
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
The state of Delaware plans to go ahead with legalized sports wagering this year. The state's governor, Jack Markell, has signed off on the law allowing it. But all four major sports leagues: the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball, as well as the NCAA, have filed a federal lawsuit to stop Delaware.
NPR's Mike Pesca has been following the story. He's in our New York studio.
HANSEN: Mike, I know casinos in Nevada allow legalized sports gambling. Where else can a person legally place a bet on a sporting event?
MIKE PESCA: Well, really nowhere else, not legally, not in the United States. Montana does have this very small, strange, little fantasy sports part of their lottery, but it's not like betting on a sporting event. But Delaware is trying to be the second state to do that. And since they're in the northeast, it's within driving distance of millions of gamblers.
The reason that no other state besides Nevada allows it is that in 1992, Congress passed a law banning sports gambling. There were four exceptions: Nevada - as I mentioned - Oregon, Montana and Delaware. And the reason these four states were exceptions were because in the past they had offered some form of legalized gambling.
And in the 1970s, Delaware had a very unsuccessful foray into sports gambling where they had a lottery where you could pick some football games. It didn't work. It actually cost the state money. But because they did that in the '70s, they always have said, we are able to reinstitute legalized sports gambling. And with this current economic downturn, the voters finally approved the plan. So they thought they'd be allowed to introduce sports gambling by the start of the NFL season.
HANSEN: But now the leagues are blocking it. Why have they filed this suit?
PESCA: Well, the leagues are never comfortable with any legalized gambling and they have a somewhat strained relationship with Nevada and the casinos. On the one hand, it's a big market and they do some events there. And one of the owners of an NBA team actually owns casinos. But on the other hand, these sports leagues have been consistent in knowing that the number one thing they can offer is the fact that their games are on the up-and-up.
They feel that if they allow legalized gambling, or if they support legalized gambling, or if legalized gambling becomes more widespread, it will threaten the integrity of professional and amateur sports. In fact, that is a direct quote from the lawsuit. That's why they're opposing it.
HANSEN: What's the legal argument they're using?
PESCA: First of all, we talked about how these four states were grandfathered-in. And the leagues have a very narrow reading of that grandfather clause because it says something like, to the extent they allowed gambling in the past. So the leagues are trying to take that literally. And if Delaware only allowed gambling on NFL games in a limited form in the past, they're saying they should only allow gambling on NFL games today. That's one argument.
The other argument I think is really fascinating. Back when Delaware in the '70s allowed gambling, you couldn't bet on one game, you had to bet on three or five or twelve games in a row. And the leagues are saying that Delaware should not be allowed to gamble on individual games. And they point to a Delaware Supreme Court ruling, which says that chance must be the dominant factor in all the gambling that the lottery sponsors.
If they force you to bet on three, five, twelve games at once, it becomes more of a gamble. And the leagues are trying to say, we'll allow or acquiesce to have Delaware allow gambling, but only if they allow long-shot bets. It's like saying you can legalize horse racing, but you can't bet on a horse to win. You can only bet the pick-six or the quinella, which are these more complicated bets where you have to get a right combination of horses to win.
HANSEN: NPR's Mike Pesca. Mike, thanks a lot.
PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.
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