A good bet for states

From an editorial Sunday in the Chicago Tribune:

New Jersey is heading to federal court in a bid to allow its struggling casinos and racetracks to offer betting on sports events.

States have broad powers to sanction and regulate most kinds of gambling, but a federal law passed in 1992 blocks them from making book on sports events.

That is, the law blocks most states. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act provided exemptions for four states that already had laws permitting sports betting – Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only state that has such wagering now.

New Jersey wants to adopt sports betting because business is off at its casinos and racetracks. As many as five of the 12 casinos in Atlantic City may close this year.

Illegal gambling on sporting events has been widespread for a long time. This is a highly lucrative, and largely unregulated, market.As much as $380 billion a year may be bet on sports illegally, through bookies, offshore gaming websites or other avenues, according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

Sports associations, particularly the NCAA and the NFL, fear that legalization would create more incentive to fix games by bribing athletes or referees. But remember, this is already a multibillion-dollar industry.

It’s time to change a federal law that permits an activity in Nevada but prohibits it in New Jersey and most other states, that effectively shelters a thriving illegal industry from regulation. That doesn’t mean states would rush to spread gambling. It just means the states, and their citizens, would have the choice.