The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that could allow states to legalize sports betting, potentially paving the way for Kentucky to rake in millions on sports bets.
Monday’s ruling struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that prohibited states from legalizing sports betting — except in states where it was already legal at the time: Delaware, Montana, Oregon and Nevada.
“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” the court wrote in its decision.
As NPR reported, the ban was known as the Bradley Act, named after its chief proponent, former basketball star Bill Bradley, who also served in the U.S. Senate:
In an NPR interview, Bradley said his motivation was simple, and personal. “Betting on sports was betting on human beings, and I thought that was wrong,” he explained. “It turns players into roulette chips. It makes the game, which is a game of high-level competition and excellence, into slot machines, and I don’t think that should be what we do in this country.”
Bradley said there was virtually no congressional opposition to his bill back in 1992, though Bradley added that Donald Trump, with failing investments in Atlantic City casinos at the time, lobbied against it, believing that sports betting was the answer to his financial problems there.
Currently, betting on horse races in Kentucky is legal because it’s not regulated under sports betting statutes, said Marc Edelman, a law professor at the City University of New York.
“Whether, as a matter of policy, we should be treating horse betting the same or differently as traditional sports gambling is certainly subject to debate,” Edelman said. “But the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was special legislation that was proposed by the sports league owners to protect the sports league owners.”
Because of that, Edelman said, states can already legalize betting on horse races and even create betting agreements with other states.
If sports betting is allowed, Edelman said Kentucky must decide how, when, and where people can bet, and how much money the state will collect from bets.
Legislators Weigh In
Kentucky State Democratic Sens. Julian Carroll and Morgan McGarvey say there’s a legislative appetite for legalizing sports betting in Kentucky.
Carroll said if the commonwealth moved to legalize sports betting, the state’s ailing pensions could benefit, as well as education.
“We really are also in dire need of financial support for our public schools,” Carroll said. “Our failure to do so leaves Kentucky now into a position where people are going to be out sports betting and we get absolutely zero from it into our general fund.”
McGarvey said Kentucky should capitalize on the Supreme Court’s decision.
“This is an easy way for Kentucky to participate in a completely legal activity that’s already taking place, and get the revenue from it,” he said.
And looking at sports betting in other states, that revenue could be huge.
A study commissioned by Congress in 1999 reported illegal gambling annually generates between $80 billion and $380 billion.
But there may be obstacles to legalizing it in Kentucky.
Carroll introduced a sports betting bill this past legislative session but the measure stalled in committee. And a bill to permit casino gambling in Kentucky also failed during the last session.
Republican Representative Jerry Miller said he’s not confident that a sports betting measure would make it through the Kentucky legislature.
“My guess is that it is not going to be legal in Kentucky,” Miller said, “It would enable us to do it if we wanted to, but we didn’t even have the votes to add for the casinos.”
In a statement released after the Supreme Court’s decision was made public Monday, Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander expressed confidence that the state legislature would not support an expansion of gambling in the commonwealth.
“Fortunately, our General Assembly has a history of protecting Kentucky citizens from the many proposals to radically expand gambling,” said Ostrander. “I am confident that their priority will be protecting our citizens, as opposed to first promoting the ‘rights’ of the gambling industry.”
Carroll plans to again propose legalizing sports betting at his “first opportunity.” He said his proposal would allow betting for college sports only, barring sports betting at the high school level.