Court In Session: States should support sports betting rules universally

The way fans view and interact with their favorite sports is poised to undergo major changes as legalized sports gambling spreads nationwide. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Murphy v. NCAA overturned a federal law limiting legal sports betting to a few states, thus allowing any state to legalize and regulate gambling on athletic events.

The case’s repercussions have already been astounding: Twenty states and counting have legalized sports gambling in some form since the Murphy ruling less than two years ago.

Though California has not yet joined the ranks of the states that have legalized betting on athletic events, the State Legislature is currently holding hearings on legalized, regulated sports betting. Even if those hearings do not lead to the passing of a law, an initiative proposing legalization will likely appear on California voters’ ballots in the November election.

It is no secret that before the Murphy decision — when sports gambling was outlawed in the majority of states — sports fans throughout the country nonetheless bet on athletic events through an underground market.

Illegal bookies and offshore websites filled the vacuum left in the absence of a legal avenue for sports gambling. Estimates vary on the exact size of the underground market, but economists who have tried to tackle the issue agree that it is massive: A 1999 congressional report estimated the market to be worth about $80 billion while more recent studies have estimated the figure to be up to $150 billion. To put that into perspective, the former estimate would put the underground sports gambling industry as being worth about seven times what the American film industry grossed in the box office last year.

Legalization would shift sports gambling to regulated platforms, alleviating sports bettors’ concerns about exploitation carried out by illegal bookies and offshore websites beyond the reach of law enforcement.

This transition of a large, pre-existing base of regular sports bettors away from the underground market and toward government-sanctioned platforms has accelerated the effects of legalization.

Profound changes are already afoot in the sports media landscape. ESPN, Fox Sports and other major outlets have made concerted efforts to add programming centered around sports gambling and integrate gambling discussions into their coverage of major sporting events. Perhaps the most prominent example of this occurred last weekend when ESPN and Fox decided to display graphics about betting lines during their broadcasts of the inaugural XFL games. In addition, Barstool Sports recently announced a partnership with casino operator Penn National Gaming in a deal intended to promote and monetize its coverage of sports gambling.

The common thread among the effects of the Murphy decision allowing for states to legalize sports gambling is the widening de-stigmatization of sports betting. 

Above all, sports are supposed to be fun — fans in our community at USC and throughout the country use sports as an outlet to come together and to experience a release from the stresses and pressures of life to whatever extent. Though there are many similarities among sports fans, the way everyone interacts with them is different.

Some fans swear off betting and focus exclusively on an unwavering allegiance to their favorite teams. Others take great enjoyment in engaging in wagers. Rather than making a futile attempt to change fans’ behavior by outlawing sports gambling, state governments across the country are rightly protecting and legitimizing sports bettors by providing them a regulated platform to engage in gambling. Let’s hope California is next.

Jake Mequet is a junior writing about sports and law. His column, “Court in Session,” runs every other Monday.