CHICAGO - In a case that would be a game changer for the gambling industry, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether New Jersey should be allowed to offer wagering on college and pro games.
After arguments today in Washington, if the court rules in New Jersey's favor, a chain reaction of sports betting will begin coast-to-coast. According to one study, Indiana would see legal sports betting within two years and Illinois and Wisconsin would be among the states legalizing it within five years.
The Midwestern states would be among 32 where sports betting would be offered within five years according to a report by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC, which tracks state-by-state gambling legislation.
"I thought the hearing went great," said Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) outside the Supreme Court on Monday.
"We're going to do well," added Gov. Christie, a former federal prosecutor who had a front row seat for the one-hour oral argument.
Christie wouldn't give odds, but he was upbeat about the state's chances of being able to legalize sports betting-arguing that current law is an unconstitutional intrusion on states' rights. New Jersey's case appeared to get a receptive audience among the justices, although it is considered a risky bet to read Supreme Court tea leaves.
In the case that would be a game-changer, New Jersey is challenging a law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that forbids state-authorized sports gambling in all but four states that met a 1991 deadline to legalize it: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Nevada is the only state to allow single-game wagering.
"This is the fear of every governor, that we'll be at the mercy of the federal government," Christie said. "It's not right and I believe here that it's very clear that the federal government overstepped its bounds."
Major professional and collegiate sports leagues oppose New Jersey's effort to legalize sports betting, saying it would threaten the perceived integrity of the games. Only the NBA is preparing for the legalization sports betting.
The windfall of a New Jersey win is more predictable. Experts say 14 states would offer sports betting within two years: Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Indiana; Massachusetts; Michigan; Mississippi; Montana; New Jersey; Ohio; Nevada; Pennsylvania; Virginia; and West Virginia. Within five years, it predicted 18 more would join: Arizona; California; Idaho; Illinois; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Missouri; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Oklahoma; Vermont; Washington and Wyoming.
Then, projecting even further out, within seven years, another dozen could offer sports betting as well.
There are no legislative proposals currently in Illinois to legalize sports wagering, although such an effort could begin quickly if the Supreme Court clears the way. There are bills before the General Assembly to regulate fantasy sports.
The Supreme Court ruling is expected by the end of its current term in June but could come as early as February.
In the decades since federal legislation was passed, opposition in U.S. sports leagues has wavered. The National Hockey League has located a team in Las Vegas, and the NFL's Oakland Raiders are due to follow. National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver has endorsed sports betting, and Major League Baseball has invested in fantasy leagues.
The illegal sports betting business would take quite a hit. It is estimated to be a $150 billion per year illicit enterprise-with local, state and federal governments getting zero. A casino trade group estimates almost $10 billion is bet illegally just on the NCAA basketball tournament each year.