In just one week, New Jersey voters will have their say on whether or not the state should pursue legalizing sports betting.
According to preliminary results, residents overwhelming favor legalization. Yet, even if residents are 100 percent in favor of sports betting, the process of actually making it legal, like a “Jersey Shore” character, is going to be loud and ugly. That’s because there are several federal laws that make the activity illegal in all but four states.
State Senator Ray Lesniak has been attempting for years to overturn the federal ban on sports betting, a ban he believes is unconstitutional. As I wrote almost exactly a year ago, Lesniak attempted to file a lawsuit on behalf of New Jersey against the federal government, an effort that was supported by former Governor Jon Corzine. Current Governor Chris Christie was a little more reluctant to support the attempt and hasn’t shown any change of heart since. The governor’s support is required in order for the suit to have standing in court.
Sen. Lesniak is confident that NJ could win the case if it makes it to court, but there are powerful opposing forces. Namely, the National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA):
At a 2010 public hearing in Atlantic City on proposals for sports betting, NFL spokesman Timothy McDonough reiterated the league’s long-standing opposition to legalized betting on its games. He said such gambling games could undermine their integrity in the eyes of fans.
“Mistakes are made in the course of the game, either by the ref or by players,” he said at the hearing. “But when mistakes are made, to a less rational person who is placing a bet, a mistake becomes a fix.”
The argument goes that if betting on sports is legalized, then athletes might be coerced into throwing games in order to earn some extra dough. While that is obviously bad for the sport, as I’ve noted before, it shouldn’t be up to the government to protect the good name of a sport or any business — that ought to be up to the sports leagues. It certainly shouldn’t be up to the government to tell individuals where, when, and on what they may spend their own money. While legalized sports betting in New Jersey would certainly be an economic boon to the economy, it would be an even greater boon to individual liberty.