Whether it’s members of Congress making highly publicized bets against each other on their hometown teams in the college national championships, March Madness office pools, or the massive amounts wagered on the Super Bowl each year, sports betting is a well-established American pastime. All this, of course, notwithstanding the federal ban on sports betting in all localities except Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon, codified in the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), though Nevada is the only state which currently offers such wagering.
Recent developments in New Jersey and other locations are presenting legal challenges to PASPA, and many believe this law will be rendered inoperable either through the courts or by Congress enacting a less restrictive law before the courts can act. The New Jersey challenge to PASPA is scheduled to be heard by the US Supreme Court in the fall.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) has formed the American Sports Betting Coalition to work towards eliminating the prohibitions in PASPA. An interesting development in the effort to eliminate PASPA is the involvement of Indian tribes. The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) has joined the coalition, although it is not clear that all tribes support this type of gaming. The dichotomy, as in many issues in Indian Country, is between the well-off urban tribes and the rural, less affluent tribes. Additionally, many tribes are still considering how a repeal on the prohibition against sports betting would affect existing gaming compacts.
One thing is clear, however: Indian tribes are separate, distinct governments under the U.S. Constitution, and are key stakeholders in this debate. According to a NIGA release, NIGA “wants to ensure that if legalized, our members have the opportunity to offer this activity as a part of their overall entertainment package and as an additional source of revenue for tribal government gaming to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency and strong tribal government.”
Given the possibility that the US Supreme Court will overturn PASPA, there is a strong expectation that Congress will consider legislation to regulate the activity. The AGA is spearheading a major effort to secure legislation that will allow individual states and localities to govern sports betting within their boundaries. It is all but certain that NIGA and other tribal interests will lobby hard to include tribal governments in the definition of government entities that can authorize and regulate sports betting. Given the long and successful record of tribal lobbying, it is likely tribal concerns will be included in whatever legislation ultimately makes its way through Congress.