As I write this column, the Cleveland Indians and the Houston Astros are preparing for an evening baseball game pitting two of baseball’s best pitchers against each other. When the final pitch is thrown, the greatest basketball player on the planet will be stretching in the locker room hoping to keep his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, alive in the NBA playoffs.
I doubt that the Republican-appointed conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are calling their bookie to bet on either game. But by their recent vote, they understand that millions of Americans would like to lay down a few dollars. Sen. Orrin Hatch may have heartburn, but the Supremes have not only struck a blow against federal intrusion, but also tossed a victory to realism.
The federal intrusion/state sovereignty issue is best left to legal scholars and an upset Orrin who is already drafting legislation to regulate sports gambling in the 49 states not named Nevada.
But the realist concept is simpler. There is no way to stop sports betting in an Internet age when any poor Joe or Mary from West Bountiful or Cedar City is “one click away” from making a wager. Hate gambling all you want, but how can you police something that is basically unpoliceable?
And if you can’t, then why not let Colorado, West Virginia, or Tennessee earn a few tax dollars to build a bridge or feed a school lunch to some poor children? You don’t have to approve of something to benefit from it; otherwise Utahns wouldn’t tax Jack Daniels or Marlboros.
To be clear, the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision did not require states to allow sports betting. All it did was strike down a federal law prohibiting every state except Nevada from allowing it. Utah can still ban it (and it probably will), but other state legislatures will have the right to make their own decisions.
To me, that only makes sense. We already have lotteries in most states, so why not let people put down $10 on whether LeBron James will foul out against the Boston Celtics. It’s nonsensical to think sports betting will lead to the destruction of athletics. Europe has allowed sports betting for decades, and it hasn’t lessened soccer fever, or created scandals with horses being doped and players being bribed.
Yes, a small fraction of people will become obsessed and spend their lunch money on a stupid wager. But they can already do it now through their iPad or even phone, and we don’t ban butter and require margarine simply because some obese folks stuff themselves with sweet rolls.
Sports betting is not a panacea for states with budget troubles; only tight fiscal management and realistic decision-making can fix that. Sports betting can also negatively alter how some people view athletes. (“That stupid Donavan Mitchell threw the ball away and cost me $150!”… “Don’t tell me how great Clayton Kershaw is. All the idiot had to do was strike out one last batter!”)
But we live in a world where the majority of Americans approve of sports betting (only about one-third disapprove) and where online wagering is already much larger than legal betting in casinos and racetracks.
Sen. Hatch, I’m sorry, but the train has already left the station.