Thursday, May 17, 2018

Gambling in Sports? I'm Shocked!

If you paid only a passing interest in the recent decision in the case known officially as Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, et al, v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn. et al, you might assume that the Supreme Court of the United States in its 7-2 ruling this week against the NCAA has just opened the door to all legalized sports betting in the United States. Well perhaps yes and perhaps no.

It was one of those rulings that could produce the comment, the law makes for strange bed fellows. What was being disputed here was a 1992 Federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited states, with the exception of Nevada, from authorizing betting on sports. The law's sponsor was then New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, a former NBA star and noted Senate liberal. Bradley's primary motive in his support of the measure was to "safeguard the integrity of sports."

Even in retirement, Bradley remains adamant that the law he sponsored over a quarter century ago was good and just. He's still convinced that the expansion of legal gambling will destroy sports, especially at the collegiate level, because of the temptations for athletes who do not receive menetary compensation for their efforts, to cheat by intentionally playing to lose games. Now unless Bradley was as shocked as I was when I learned that illegal sports gambling exists, ok not really, it's hard to understand why he thinks that legal gambling would contribute any more to players cheating than illegal gambling. After all, the most famous scandal involving athletes paid by gamblers to intentionally lose were my own team. the Chicago White Sox, back in 1919. Those gamblers involved in the Black Sox affair were hardly on the up and up with the law.

Gambling on sports has been around at least since Ben Hur rode that chariot around the Roman Circus in Judea, c. 30AD, and probably a lot longer. Spectator sports we know and love like baseball owe their very existence to gambling, as in the early days they had to compete with sports like dog fighting and rat baiting for the public's attention. Baseball didn't win out over those activities because working men (fans were mostly men in those days) valued spending their hard earned money and their one day off just to watch other grown men play a slow moving children's game.

There are all sorts of arguments pro and con for legalized betting, and quite frankly I'm on the fence on the issue. On the one hand, gambling like drugs can become a serious addicition that can destroy lives. On the other hand also like drugs, people are going to gamble, regardless of whether it's legal or not, so we miight as well sanction, control and tax the hell out of it.

However the Supreme Court this week was not ruling on gambling per se, but on an act of Congress that even from my own very limited understanding of the law, seems unconsitutional. To be specific, Congress cannot dictate to state legislatures how to enforce laws. So says the tenth amendment of the Constitution:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
In other words, in this case, Congress, in the words of Justice Samuel Alito in his majority opinion,
...can regulate sports gambling directly (and for that matter, take on the responsibility of enoforcing that regulation) , but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own,
So the answer to the question above on whether sports gambling will run rampant across this nation, is not exactly, it's up to each state.

This might be considered the classic conservative/liberal argument over states' rights versus federal jurisdiction, but the tenth amendment is unequivocal, so along with the dependable four conservative votes on the court plus William Kennedy's swing vote, two justices considered left of center also voted with the majority.

Like most Supreme Court decisions, this one has ramifications that go well beyond the issues that inspired the original case.

Despite the unanimous ruling from the Right side of the court, it turns out that the Trump administration greatly opposed this ruling. Why? Because it runs afoul of the administration's plan to punish so-called sanctuary states and cities by witholding Federal funds from jurisdictions who refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. By stating that the federal government cannot impose laws within the jurisdiction of the state, it would logically follow that the feds can't, at least according to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the tenth amendment, require local police to enforce federal statutes such as immigration laws.

Too bad for Donald Trump that he can't fire the Supreme Court. For the rest of us, it's nice to know that we are a nation goverened by the rule of law, and there is precious little the president can do to stop it.

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