By Aaron Earls
States now have a new choice to make—whether to bet on sports gambling or not.
In a 6-3 decision on Monday (May 14), the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that prevented state-authorized sports gambling outside of Nevada.
By ruling the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) unconstitutional, the Supreme Court placed the onus on congress to act.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority opinion. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”
The court ruled in favor of New Jersey, whose voters had approved a measure to legalize sports betting in 2011. The major professional and amateur sports organizations—NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB—immediately challenged the law. Lower courts had upheld the ban at every step.
In addition to the New Jersey law, seven others states—Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Mississippi and West Virginia—have laws prepared to make sports gambling legal, according to CNBC.
Thirteen other states—California, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Carolina—have plans in place to consider legalizing it.
For their part, Americans have mixed feelings on sports gambling.
A 2016 survey from Lifeway Research found a plurality of Americans (49 percent) felt sports gambling should not be legalized nationally, but 64 percent said it was not morally wrong to bet on sports.
“Throughout history, gambling has invited shady and addictive behavior,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Clearly, people perceive a harm to society that goes beyond the wager itself.”
At that time, support for sports gambling had a significant gender gap—50 percent among men compared to 30 percent among women. Younger Americans were also more likely to embrace legalized sports gambling.
Almost 6 in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs (58 percent) opposed nationwide sports gambling. However, even among evangelicals by belief fewer than half (47 percent) say sports wagers are morally wrong.
“We don’t see a majority in any group saying it’s morally wrong to bet on sports,” McConnell said.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), 2 million U.S. adults are estimated to meet the criteria for pathological gambling and another 4-6 million would be considered problem gamblers.
Currently, some form of legalized gambling is available in the District of Columbia and every state, with the exception of Hawaii and Utah, according to the NCPG.
“Sports gambling has the very real potential to be an addictive destroyer of families and the church in America,” said Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives at Lifeway. “Both youth sports participation and professional sports entertainment already encroach on time traditionally reserved for families and churches.”
Howe, who spent a decade in collegiate sports administration, said the expansion of gambling “will increase financial struggles, strain marriages, and as a result impact church participation and finances. Pastors should prepare for the family, marriage, and financial issues this decision could create in churches.”
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AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.