The first step to making sports gambling legal in the US is at the ballot box. Since 1932, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) has prevented individual states from establishing their own sports wagering laws. Congress passed PASPA to prevent the states from going against the anti-gambling laws that had been established by the 1930s. In 2018, New Jersey and Pennsylvania both proposed bills that would have allowed for legalized sports betting within their borders. (See New Jersey Sports Betting Act and Pennsylvania Bill Could Legalize Sports Betting.) These states’ actions were spurred by the introduction of the NCAA football season, which gave rise to an entirely new industry.
However, both states’ proposals failed to gain enough traction to be signed into law. (Pennsylvania Bill Could Legalize Sports Betting 2017) Without PASPA to protect them from legal challenges, states are now able to pass sports wagering legislation. Once a state establishes this legal framework, counties and municipalities within that state can follow suit. This is why it is so important that states and the federal government continue to support and defend PASPA. (See also Federally Liable for Violence at Sports Events.)
Another way to support the legalization of sports betting is with financial support. The state of Oregon, which recently legalized casino games, provides an example of how sports betting can be supported financially. When the state legalised sports betting in 2014, they established a new state agency, the Oregon Racing Commission, to regulate the industry. (See New Jersey Sports Betting Act.) The agency receives about 95% of its funding from the state’s share of racing winnings and about 5% from the federal government. (See also What Are The Financing Mechanisms Available To States For The Regulation of Sports Gambling?)
The legalization of sports betting doesn’t just mean providing a financial benefit to states. It also means that donations to charitable organizations can be used to support children’s sports programmes or other socially beneficial projects. California, which was the first state to legalize sports betting, established the Chicagoland Soccer Foundation (CSF) in 1997. The organisation, which supports over 100 youth soccer teams in the area, uses gaming proceeds to provide equipment, travel costs, and tuition for players. (See Chicagoland Soccer Foundation.) The state of New Jersey also supports youth sports programmes by establishing the Junior Soccer Association (JSA) in 2018. (See New Jersey Sports Betting Act.)
Finally, we come to the most crucial part – actually getting people to support the idea of legalizing sports betting. Much like any other form of social change, public opinion is key. When New Jersey and Pennsylvania proposed their bills to legalize sports betting, they surveyed people in the area and found that 89% were in favour of the idea. (See New Jersey Sports Betting Act and Pennsylvania Bill Could Legalize Sports Betting.)
A lot of work lies ahead in order to establish a formalized system for legal sports betting in the US. However, due to PASPA, it’s clear that states have the wherewithal to pass legislation allowing for sports wagering. Now, it’s just a matter of time before counties and municipalities across the country follow suit.