Talking about letting the cat out of the bag. The decision on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down a 26-year-old law that essentially banned sports betting in America, has sent shockwaves across the gambling industry.
As you can imagine, the high court’s actions even got the attention of Connecticut officials who are wondering aloud whether to bring such wagering to their state, where members of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee have jurisdiction over gambling in Connecticut.
The Supreme Court’s decision turns on its head what was essentially a half-assed law anyway. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 essentially exempted the four states from the ban that already had sports betting: Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon.
One of the sponsors of the 1992 law was then-Sen. Bill Bradley, a former NBA star from New Jersey who wanted to protect the integrity of professional sports — as if they had any to begin with. Ironically, it was a 2014 New Jersey law permitting sports betting that triggered the SCOTUS decision.
Rep. Joe Verrengia, the West Hartford Democrat who chairs the public safety panel, says he’d like lawmakers to hold a special session to consider sports gambling. Why? Because during the recently completed session, the General Assembly had before it a bill that would have permitted the state to commence sports betting negotiations with Connecticut’s two Indian tribes, which have an exclusive arrangement over certain types of gambling in the state.
But lawmakers did not get around to passing it because, they said, they simply ran out of time. That’s sort of hard to believe because members of the legislature manage to find plenty of time for press gaggles and cocktail parties.
Be that as it may, no less than lame-duck Gov. Dannel P. Malloy himself is interested in calling lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider legislation on sports betting. No doubt, Malloy is salivating, along with other state officials, at the prospect of $40 to $80 million in annual revenue in the short term and perhaps billions down the road.
The numbers and potential for revenue are staggering. Nevada’s Gaming Control commission alone reported $4.8 billion in sports bets last year. But of course there is the underground market that would presumably be decimated with the repeal of the 1993 law. According to DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, Americans wager “$150 billion illegally each year through offshore, black market bookies.”
Assuming more people will wager if it’s legalized, sports betting will be a boon to the professional sports industry — probably a huge one. Nielsen ratings research estimates that the average non-betting NFL fan watches about 15-16 games a year. The average betting NFL fan watches 45-50 games a year.
This will happen at a time when NFL ratings declined by almost 10 percent last season. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, predicts that the value of any franchise in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB will at least double.
So it goes without saying that many of Connecticut’s elected officials are willing to embrace this phenomenon. All states — with the possible exception of the oil-charged North Dakota — are constantly on the lookout for new revenue sources.
On the other hand, we know the damage that gambling can do to people who become compulsive about it. As regular readers of this column know, I’m not a fan of the government profiting off of gambling because, all too often, those who get screwed by it are poor.
And Connecticut is knee-deep in “gaming,” as the gambling industry likes to euphemistically call it: we have two of the largest casinos in the nation—with another perhaps on the way in Bridgeport. We have plenty of lottery games, including the dreadful Keno, a highly addictive video numbers game that essentially offers a new lottery every five minutes. And of course there is parimutuel wagering (e.g. jai alai and OTB) and charitable gaming (e.g. church Bingo).
If we must raise new revenues, I would rather with go tolls, provided the proceeds are dedicated to the transportation fund and stay there to be spent on, you know, transportation. I understand, as the Yankee Institute has helpfully pointed out, that the return of tolls would be complicated, but it looks like congestion pricing tolls would be acceptable to the feds, without necessitating the return of all the federal highway funds the state has received since tolls were eliminated after a deadly 1983 toll booth crash in Stratford.
And there is the possibility of new revenues from the sale of recreational marijuana, if the legislature ever gets off its butt and approves it. Legal weed poses problems too but at least it won’t soak the poor in the way that gambling all too often does.
Tolls and weed don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though I must say I have some sympathy with the mantra of the pot proponents: “Bowls, not tolls!” Indeed, channeling Connecticut NORML, I say to the legislature, “Weed deserve a vote.”
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at email@example.com.
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