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The Monitor's View

Super Bowl betting can’t be a goldmine for states

Revenue-hungry states are asking why Congress bans sports betting. Their attempts to repeal a 1992 law must be resisted. Sports must not be corrupted by gambling.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / February 4, 2010



Planning to bet on this Sunday’s Super Bowl

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At home parties, in office pools, or in Nevada, millions of American who otherwise don’t gamble will be placing a wager on the No. 1 event in America’s No. 1 sport – despite a 1992 federal law that bans sports betting in almost every state.  

Billions of dollars will change hands for this NFL championship, and not just over whether the New Orleans Saints or the Indianapolis Colts will win Super Bowl XLIV. 

Most bets are not made on the athletics but on so-called propositions, such as which team will win the coin toss, how long it will take Carrie Underwood to sing the National Anthem, or whether Peter Townshend, leader of the rock band The Who, will smash his guitar during the half-time show.

That may all be intended to add fun and emotional intensity, but it has a dark side – and not just in feeding a gambling addiction for many people. 

The danger is that sports gambling might corrupt the sport itself – that is, if some lawmakers from Iowa to Delaware get their way.

In a few states hungry to raise tax revenue, legislators are pushing Congress to rescind the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). They want to tap the rich gold mine of sports gambling, which may be worth up to $380 billion a year, according to the National Gaming Impact Study Commission.

New Jersey and Missouri recently asked Congress to allow legal sports betting. And a federal court suit brought by a New Jersey state legislator seeks a direct legal challenge to the 1992 law. Delaware, meanwhile, is asking the US Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling last year that barred the state from organized betting on single sports events like the Super Bowl.

The 1992 federal law allows only four states that already had sports gambling at the time – Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana – to keep their form of betting. Oregon dropped its sports gambling in 2007, while such betting in Montana is minimal. Nevada remains the major center for sports gambling. Delaware, meanwhile, was stuck with its previous version of offering bets only on multiple games at once – not a big moneymaker.

Sports betting, whether legal or informal, whether during Super Bowl or March Madness – is steadily growing, which forces the various sports organizations to fight back against efforts to legalize it.

They are worried that gamblers will try to fix games, obtain inside information from players, and otherwise put a cloud of suspicion over their sports. In one legal complaint, the industry stated: “Sports lotteries involving single-game betting threaten the integrity of professional and amateur sports and are fundamentally at odds with the principle – essential to the success of MLB, the NBA, the NCAA, the NFL, and the NHL – that the outcomes of professional and collegiate athletic contests must be perceived by the public as being determined solely on the basis of honest athletic competition.” 

Adding to that argument, it could be asked: Do sports teams really want fans who are only interested in the gambling aspect?

Big money in sports already has enough corrupting influence without adding the potential for gambling dollars to also sway athletics even further. 

This Sunday, how about just enjoying the Super Bowl as a game of skill and not of chance.

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