New Jersey, Canada battle with leagues over sports betting

24 June 2013
By Chris Sieroty

As New Jersey prepares for its next court hearing on Wednesday over its efforts to legalize sports betting, gaming officials in Canada are urging lawmakers to vote on a bill legalizing Las Vegas-style sports books.

A bill introduced almost two years ago would allow Canadians to wager on a single sporting event at a time. It’s also seen as way to draw U.S. gamblers to casinos just across the border from cities such as Detroit or Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Canada offers a sports lottery in which bettors can parlay three or more games, but single-game betting is illegal under the Canadian criminal code.

“We are like Delaware, which offers parlay cards for sports betting,” Paul Burns, vice president of public affairs with the Toronto-based Canadian Gaming Association, said in a phone interview. “Every sports bettor knows it’s not a great bet.”

Burns said legalizing sports betting would discourage Canadian bettors from wagering on National Hockey League or National Football League games offshore or with illegal bookmakers.

Parlay sports wagering generates about $500 million annually. Burns said illegal sports betting was a $14 billion industry in Canada.

The NHL has come out against the bill, citing concerns over corruption and possible game fixing. It’s a similar position the league has taken in its legal efforts to stop New Jersey from legalizing sports wagering.

Burns said if sports leagues were so concerned about integrity, why wouldn’t they want greater oversight of gambling? Canadians can gamble online, including at all European sports books such as Skybet, William Hill and Ladbrokes.

Canadians can use credit cards and e-wallets for payments and withdrawals online.

Burns said the bill has the support of eight provinces and the British Columbia Lottery.

Gaming officials and politicians in New Jersey argue sports betting is crucial to increasing revenues, which have declined for six straight years.

Revenues at Atlantic City’s casinos fell 8 percent in 2012, to a little more than $3 billion. The all-time high for Atlantic City came in 2006 when the casinos took in $5.2 billion.

Sports betting could distinguish Atlantic City from its competition in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, according to an industry analyst.

“I think it can have an impact,” said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “At least they have a couple of years where they are the only ones in the area with sports betting.”

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in Philadelphia on Wednesday in the landmark New Jersey sports betting case. Each side will have 30 minutes to plead their case to the three-judge panel.

New Jersey’s main argument is that the NFL, NHL and other leagues lack standing and that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is unconstitutional as it exempts four states from its enforcement and fails to provide a regulatory framework.

The NFL, NCAA and three other sports leagues argue that Congress has long recognized the federal interest in protecting sports and regulatory gambling and that the act seeks to stem the spread of state-sponsored sports gambling.

“If (New Jersey) succeeds, sports betting could be a much bigger part of the legal betting picture in the U.S.,” Schwartz said.

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