WILMINGTON, Del. (BP)–Las Vegas-type sports gambling could be legal in Delaware in time for the start of the NFL and college football seasons unless the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals steps in at the request of the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA.
Delaware’s Democratic governor, Jack Markell, has proposed legalizing single-game and parlay wagering on sports to help erase a budget deficit despite objections from the NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA. The leagues and the NCAA say widespread legalized gambling would threaten the integrity of their sports by creating incentives for cheating and game-fixing.
In 1992, Congress enacted a federal ban on sports betting in response to the growth of state and tribal-sponsored gambling. Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Oregon were grandfathered in because they already had forms of sports betting. Nevada, though, is the only state that allows bets on any individual game.
The pro sports leagues contend that Delaware’s new lottery goes beyond what is allowed by the ’92 exemption. The lottery the state started in 1976 — which later failed — only offered parlay bets on the results of three or more NFL games. The new plan would allow betting on single games and on sports other than professional football.
In May, Delaware’s Supreme Court ruled that the current sports betting plan does not conflict with the state constitution as long as chance is the predominant factor in winning or losing. The leagues say skill would outweigh the element of chance in single-game betting, and such wagering would violate the state constitution.
The leagues asked federal District Judge Gregory Sleet to intervene in the expanded gambling process, but he set a Dec. 7 trial date and refused to grant a preliminary injunction. An injunction, he said, was not warranted in the case because the leagues had not convinced him that they would suffer irreparable harm without one or that the state would not be irreparably harmed by an injunction.
On Aug. 12, the leagues asked the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia to overturn the district judge’s ruling, marking the leagues’ third significant filing with the appellate body in a week, USA Today said.
The leagues have asked the appeals court to overturn Sleet’s decision to deny a temporary injunction while their suit against Delaware proceeds. The leagues also have asked the court for expedited consideration. As a backup, the leagues’ lawyers wrote in Wednesday’s filing that an “injunction pending appeal is warranted to preserve the status quo,” USA Today said.
Kenneth Nachbar, an attorney for the leagues, said the harm posed to the sports leagues was recognized by Congress in 1992 when the law was enacted, the Associated Press said.
“The only aspects that are being challenged are single-game betting and betting on sports other than the NFL,” Nachbar said. “Delaware has never had sports betting on anything but NFL games.”
USA Today noted that baseball especially knows the corrupting influence of gambling from the “Black Sox” scandal in which eight players conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, as well as the lifetime ban of career hits leader Pete Rose. The office of baseball commissioner was formed in response to the 1919 gambling episode, the newspaper said.
In July, Rep. Heath Shuler, D.-N.C., a former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback, joined two other congressmen in writing a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, encouraging the Department of Justice to “monitor closely the evolving situation in Delaware to ensure the state’s compliance with federal law.”
“Sports gambling threatens to change the nature of sporting events from wholesome entertainment for all ages to devices for gambling,” Shuler, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R.-Ala., and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D.-N.Y, wrote, quoting a report on the Senate bill that led to the 1992 federal sports gambling ban.
“It undermines public confidence in the character of professional and amateur sports. Furthermore, state-sanctioned sports gambling will promote gambling among our nation’s young people,” the report on the bill said.
The Senate judicial committee in 1992 also addressed the need for federal preemption, the congressmen said in their letter to Holder.
“Sports gambling is a national problem. The harms it inflicts are felt beyond the borders of those states that sanction it,” the report on the bill said. “The moral erosion it produces cannot be limited geographically…. Without federal legislation, sports gambling is likely to spread on a piecemeal basis and ultimately develop an irreversible momentum.”
The congressmen’s letter was preceded by a letter to Holder from Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona also asking the justice department to defend the federal prohibition against sports betting.
In a statement, Shuler said from experience in sports he knows the threat betting brings to games.
“Sports betting undermines the integrity and teamwork of athletes, coaches, teams and leagues,” Shuler said. “It threatens to destroy the necessary sense of competition that makes sports great.”
In addition to Delaware, New Jersey also is facing a budget shortfall and hopes to legalize in-casino sports betting. That state already offers betting on horse racing as well as lotteries, slot machines and Atlantic City table games. New Jersey, which is not exempt from the federal ban on sports betting, filed a lawsuit in March challenging the constitutionality of the ban.
Paul Haagen, a sports law expert at Duke University Law School, told USA Today, “There’s a sense of the traditional cultural resistance [to sports betting] is weakening.” He added that if Delaware and New Jersey succeed in opening sports betting, “I would expect to see that kind of activity spread, just as you saw the spread of state lotteries.”
Bob Simpson, associate executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, told Baptist Press in March that Baptists in Delaware and elsewhere must continue to oppose expanded gambling.
“I am well aware of the dramatic change that has occurred within American culture,” Simpson said. “I get that we as Bible-believing Christians are swimming upstream on most things related to both faith and family values. But it just seems to me that, in spite of what the pro-gambling folks tell us, more good could come if we solidly defeat any and all gambling initiatives.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.