Why is one of the architects of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act taking point on sports betting in Congress? After all, PASPA was deemed unconstitutional just three months ago, and it seems highly unlikely that Congress will get a second shot at prohibiting sports betting.
The simple answer is that the upcoming mid-term elections have created something of a void. Senators and representatives don’t want any part of controversial legislation when their names are on the ballot. But Orrin Hatch, the conservative Utah senator who helped author PASPA, isn’t on the ballot. He’s retiring. And as his swan song, he clearly wants another federal mandate on sports betting.
Just days after the Supreme Court overturned PASPA in May, Hatch promised new legislation to help protect the integrity of the game. Yet in the ensuing months, as six states have legalized sports betting and three (Delaware, New Jersey and Mississippi) already have sportsbooks up and running, there has been no new bill.
Conservative Senator Opposes Sports Betting, But Delaware, New Jersey and Mississippi Are Already Accepting Sports Bets.
It seemed odd that last week, in the middle of a Senate session that had nothing to do with sports betting, that Hatch made his plea and again promised legislation that would “kick-start” the federal discussion on sports betting. Let’s be real here – Hatch is opposed to sports betting and he wants his legacy to be a last-minute law banning it again.
It’s highly unlikely that Hatch will get what he wants. There is little time left on the Congressional calendar before his term expires in January. In fact, without breaking down every little detail, there are only 35 legislative days between Labor Day weekend and the mid-term elections on Nov. 6. And while I don’t know much about how quickly Congress moves, that hardly seems like ample time before a series of lame-duck sessions after the elections. Or maybe it’s the lame-duck sessions Hatch is counting on?
In any event, last week before the U.S. Senate, Hatch performed a soliloquy on the ills of gambling and sports gambling in particular. He used phrases like “deleterious social effects” and the “threat sports betting poses” on his way to pointing out how great PASPA was. Really?
PASPA was not only deemed unconstitutional, but it is likely responsible for the huge illegal sports gambling market – for all the dollars that every state considering legalizing sports betting wants to get its hands on. How many dollars? Even Hatch admits the number could be as high as $150 billion.
PASPA Was Great, According to Hatch. Really? Illegal Sports Betting Paved Way for a Black Market and Legal Sports Betting Can Help Quash That.
“Federal oversight of sports betting was an abject failure, succeeding only in enabling the growth of a massive illegal market,” said American Gaming Association senior VP for Public Affairs Sara Slane in a press release on Friday. “The Supreme Court decision removed this unconstitutional federal overreach, allowing states and sovereign tribal nations – who have proven to be effective regulators of all gaming – to decide what works best for their constituents.”
But Hatch is already taking issue with just that – “what works best for their constituents.” We already know that Hatch comes at sports betting as a hater. He believes it should be illegal. So, now, in an effort to craft another federal framework, he’s going to start the process by ripping the states that already have sports betting, but whose laws do not appeal to Hatch’s sense of right and wrong.
In his speech, Hatch pointed fingers at West Virginia and Mississippi for not doing enough to protect the integrity of the game. West Virginia, which will open its doors for sports betting on Saturday, apparently wasn’t explicit enough for Hatch about who could or could not place sports bets.
In Mississippi, where sportsbooks have been open for about a month, the regulations, according to Hatch, specify that “coaches or participants” cannot place sports bets. But even that’s not good enough. Hatch questioned Mississippi saying, “What is a participant?”
Hatch Lauded NJ Sports Betting Regulations. But States Don’t Need Federal Sports Betting Oversight and Should Make Own Choices.
On the flip side, New Jersey, the second state to open its doors to sports betting and the plaintiff in the PASPA Supreme Court case, has very strict rules about who can bet.
To all of which I say, so what? Isn’t that the point of states’ rights? If things are fast and loose in one state (see: Nevada) but perennially uptight in others (see: New England) then that is exactly how the Founding Fathers wanted things to work. And, frankly, the federal government should butt out.
In the end, Hatch’s promise of new sports betting legislation is about vanity and imposing his will on a nation. As a Mormon and Utah resident, he is categorically opposed to gambling of any kind. That’s his choice. The Mormon Church shuns gambling, which is illegal in Utah. But that’s Utah.
What about the other 49 states?