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Supreme Court To Hear Case On Legalizing Sports Betting

Patrick Semansky
Fans place bets ahead of the running of the Black-Eyed Susan horse race at Pimlico race course in May in Baltimore.

Connecticut is one of seven states pushing to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks. And on Thursday the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case. 

It could be the undoing of a federal ban on sports betting in most states that goes back to 1993. The sports and gaming industries are watching this case closely and preparing for a future that might look very different. 

Ted Taylor works in a pub in Connecticut that is perfectly positioned if sports betting is legalized.

“They can watch whatever they want, including about thirty different sports channels. And there’s a little pad there so if they don’t want to move, they can just place their bets there.”

Taylor is an executive at Sportech, a British gambling company that bought 16 off-track betting parlors in Connecticut and is poised to do the same in California. OTBs are a struggling industry. But this one is built to be a sports fan’s paradise. It’s all dark wood walls, saloon-style doors, 197 TVs, and plenty of cashiers nearby for bettors. Right now, Taylor can only take bets on racing and highline, but he’s ready for traditional sports.

“When it’s legal, this will be a natural place for that to happen, but I have to emphasize that everyone feels that’s got to be regulated properly.”

It's not just betting parlors either. Seven states have already moved legislation in preparation for legal sports betting even though the Supreme Court only just decided to consider it.

But from the gaming industry perspective, repealing the ban is a foregone conclusion. Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, says, "Sports league, the casino gaming industry, the states, broadcasters, and many others have said it's time to take a different approach to this complex issue."

Sport leagues have been the traditional opponents to repealing the ban. 

John Holden, a legal scholar at Florida State University who studies sports, says leagues have been concerned about the integrity of their games.

"Legalized gambling might increase instances of match fixing or gambling corruption," Holden says.

But leagues have increasingly begun to soften their stance and form partnerships that could capitalize on legal sports betting.  The NFL, NHL, NBA, all have deals with data companies that watch for suspicious bets.

"However, these companies also provide the data that sports books use to set lines. So while they provide this integrity monitoring service, they are also helping those operate betting businesses."

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.