Mark Emmert Says NCAA to Support State Sports Betting Bans

NCAA Sports Betting Ban

The NCAA would take the debate o individual states, where it doubtless would win a few political battles.

Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, said the collegiate sports organization will not embrace wagering on college sporting events, whether the US Supreme Court upholds a federal ban on sports betting or not. The US Supreme Court currently is deliberating on the fate of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), with a decision expected in the first half of 2018.

The NCAA president spoke at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New Yrok City this week. Emmert’s remarks touched on the NCAA’s official position regarding the constitutionality of the PASPA law. The NCAA joined with four sports asscociations — the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL — to sue the State of New Jersey and Monmouth Park racetrack in October 2014.

The lawsuit stemmed from Monmouth Park and William Hill USA’s joint plan to operate a sportsbook out of the Oceanport racetrack, along with New Jersey officials’ plans to look the other way as the gambling took place. The NCAA and the pro sports leagues won legal decisions in a US District Court in Trenton, along with two more appellate decisions at the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. New Jersey appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments on December 4.

Lobby State Governments to Ban Sports Betting

Mark Emmert said, if the Supreme Court overturns the 1992 PASPA law, that the NCAA would not give up the fight to ban sports betting. Instead, the collegiate association would lobby state legislature in dozens of US states to enact bans on college sports betting in their states.

The NCAA long has upheld a ban on official ties to Las Vegas, because it has the only legal brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in the country. For decades, the NCAA has opted not to host championship games in Las Vegas, even as sports leagues’ resolve has crumbled on the matter.

The NBA hosted All-Star Games in Las Vegas. Over the past two years, the NFL and NHL league ownership approved franchises for the Las Vegas area, even as they fought the expansion of sports betting in the court system. Mark Emmert says he would uphold its ban on Las Vegas championship games, even if PASPA was overturned.

“We’ll Play Wherever We Have To”

Emmert noted that some nod to reality would have to be made. When asked about the prospect of hosting championship games in other states which might embrace sports gambling, Emmert said, “Obviously, if you wind up with sports gambling everywhere in the country we’re not going to stop playing championships. We’ll play wherever we have to….We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Since 2014, three of the leagues’ commissioners have indicated they were amenable to federal sports betting regulations, instead of a blanket sports betting ban. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote a NY Times op-ed piece calling for sports betting regulations, while former NBA Commissioner David Stern (long a proponent of a ban) backed Silver’s comments. Since then, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman each indicated they would listen to the ideas for regulations instead of a ban, though they did not commit as much as Silver has.

Goodell and Emmert on Sports Betting Ban

That leaves NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NCAA President Mark Emmert as the only top executives who have shown no give on the subject of sports betting. Even Goodell was flexible enough to allow the Oakland Raiders to seek a vote by NFL ownership on a move to Las Vegas in 2020. NFL owners voted 31-1 to approve the Raiders’ move.

While Mark Emmert is taking a hardline stance, he does so knowing that 50-state legal sports betting would mean more money for the NCAA. A Neilsen Sports study showed that the average TV viewer watches 19 more games a year when they have money riding on the game. Legal sports betting would mean boosted TV ratings for the sports involved, which in turn would mean more advertising dollars for the networks and the sports associations.

Undermines Integrity of Sports?

Despite that, Mark Emmert maintains that sports betting undermines the integrity of his sport — or at least the sports viewing public’s trust in the integrity of sports. That was the argument used by sports owners and executives to push the PASPA law in the U.S. Congress: that fans worried games might be fixed when sports betting was allowed. Since PASPA went into effect in 1993, a sea change has occurred in American attitudes towards gambling, as well as American gambling habits.

Since that time, tribal casinos have opened in dozens of states. As more states had casinos inside their perimeters, they allowed commercial casino operators in their states, or allowed riverboat operations to move on-land. State lotteries have gained a lot of ground in dozens of states across the USA, while 45 states have joined the multistate lottery associations: Powerball and Mega Millions.

Mobile Sports Betting Proliferation

Online and mobile sports betting has appeared. While the US government banned online sportsbooks in 2006 with the UIGEA law, unlicensed offshore online sportsbooks continued to accept bets from US players. Mobile sportsbooks mean that Americans can bet on sports as they commute on the train to work every morning, or wait in the doctor’s office for an appointment. Americans who want to bet on sports can do so easily, despite the PASPA ban. Las Vegas collects around $5 billion in stakes on sports bets each year, while American gamble $150 billion illegally.

Given those figures, it is hard to say that the PASPA ban assures Americans of sports’ integrity. Thus, PASPA has failed to protect Americans, who skirt the law they way they skirted alcohol bans during the Prohibition Era. PASPA simply do not work.

Federal Equal Standing Principle

That was not the argument New Jersey’s lawyers used in the Supreme Court. They argue that a federal law which allows 4 states to participate while banning 46 other states is unconstitutional. PASPA violates the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, as well as longstanding constitutional principles like “equal standing” between the US states. Lawyers arguing for Mark Emmert and Roger Goodell argue that the other 46 states were given a 1-year window to pass pro-sports betting laws before PASPA went into effort — thus protecting the equal standing principle.

Those are arguments for the nine Supreme Court justices. The real news is that Mark Emmert and the NCAA is not going to go away quietly, if the PASPA is overturned. The NCAA’s lobbyists are going to fight it out on a state-by-state basis — no doubt winning in certain states. Mark Emmert also might award those states which ban sports betting with more NCAA championship games, so politicians in many states will have a decision to make about the full impact of sports betting.