Do players want sports betting legalized? 

October, 12, 2012

Since you stumbled onto the gambling portion of our fine website, I am going to make a prediction: The battle to legalize sports betting is going to the U.S. Supreme Court. And it's in a big hurry to get there.

If you follow this blog you know that, for the past few years, as economies have tanked and bills have piled high, plenty of state governments have grown interested in legalizing sports betting, long the third rail of the betting vices. Since the early 1990s, when the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was signed into law, sports wagering has been a federal offense. But it represents a pile of illegal money, estimates ranging as high as $500 billion in the United States, that is unregulated, untaxed and underutilized.

One state that is particularly interested in this revenue stream is New Jersey, home to the decaying boardwalk of Atlantic City. In fact, the state legislature and residents have voted to allow sports betting. And the governor there, Chris Christie, wants to grant casinos and racetracks licenses to do so. He also has told the federal government and the pro sports leagues that if they don't like it they can all come and get him.

Well, naturally, they did. And now there is a pitched legal battle taking place in which the four pro sports leagues and the NCAA claim sports betting is hazardous to their health and New Jersey is saying, as only Jersey can, "You're lying. I know because your mouth is moving."

What has made this so much more interesting, as if it could get any more interesting, are the two attorneys who recently joined up to represent each side. You'd expect heavyweights, but what we got were Frazier and Ali. On the Jersey side is Ted Olson, the guy who argued in front of the Supreme Court on behalf of George W. Bush in a case you may have heard of from back in 2000: Bush v. Gore. Olson then became Bush's solicitor general of the United States. His successor was a guy named Paul Clement. Guess who is representing the leagues? Paul Clement.

As Joe Brennan, boss of the Internet wagering lobbying firm IMEGA, which is a party in a lawsuit to have PASPA overturned, told me Thursday morning, "You don't hire these guys unless you plan on this going to the Supreme Court, sooner rather than later."

The latest movement in the case dovetails nicely with the topic I wanted to tackle this week, which is athletes' perspectives on legalizing gambling. After all, if the leagues say sports wagering is potentially injurious (going back to my J300 law days at Indiana University), I'd like to know if the players theoretically most susceptible to lapses of integrity agree.

As you know by now, in addition to being a hacky writer, I am also editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine. And right now our D.C. issue is on the newsstands. In that issue we run one of our Confidential polls, in which we question dozens of athletes about taboo topics. In the current version we asked 67 jocks from the four major sports their thoughts on gay marriage (legalize it), taxes (too high), the best president (Abraham Lincoln) and who among them would make the best politician (Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Derek Fisher). We also wondered, do you think sports betting should be legalized?