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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)

 

KNOXVILLE — Less than 20 miles from the Tennessee state line sit the casinos of Tunica County, Mississippi. They feature slot machines, blackjack tables and roulette wheels — and, soon, sportsbooks where gamblers can wager on professional or college games.

Those wanting to place a legal bet on the Memphis Grizzlies, Nashville's Predators or Titans, the Tennessee Vols or Memphis Tigers will have a 45-minute drive from Memphis.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling killing a federal law that had limited full-scale sports betting to Nevada for the past 25 years.

The high court's ruling left some casinos and state governments licking their chops at the chance for new revenue streams.

Already, legal sports betting is up and running in Delaware and New Jersey. Mississippi is among the states next in line. Its casinos could be accepting bets by the time the college football season kicks off.

The court decision also left brass in college and professional sports pondering what additional measures are necessary to protect the integrity of their games.

"There will be a need for heightened vigilance on the part of all stakeholders," said Daniel Wallach, a gaming and sports attorney who is a shareholder at Becker & Poliakoff in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

How did we get here on gambling?

Sports gambling isn't new, of course. Anyone who has visited Las Vegas casinos has seen sportsbooks featuring comfy chairs and electronic boards with betting lines.

That's not to mention the illegal bets gamblers placed with bookies or the online bets wagered with offshore-based sportsbooks like Bovada.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 forced states to keep sports gambling bans on the books. Nevada, which had full-scale sports gambling, including single-game bets, was grandfathered in. So were a few other states that had more restricted sports gambling.

New Jersey wanted to legalize sports betting in its casinos and racetracks and challenged that PASPA was unconstitutional.

It won via the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision on May 14. The ruling leaves individual states to decide whether to legalize sports gambling and how to regulate it.

In the 12-month period ending April 30, Nevada casinos made $259.8 million off sports bets, according to the latest Nevada Gaming Control Board revenue report. By comparison, those casinos made $7.53 billion off slots, $1.23 billion of baccarat and $1.17 billion off blackjack.

Sports bets accounted for 2.2 percent of Nevada casinos' win totals during that 12-month period. Although a drop in the bucket, that's an all-time high percentage, according to data compiled since 1984 by UNLV's Center for Gaming Research.

Other states want in on the action.

Mississippi and West Virginia are expected to be among the next wave of states to offer legal sports gambling.

In Tennessee, where there are no casinos and gambling is illegal other than a few exceptions, like the lottery and fantasy sports, legal sports betting doesn't seem imminent.

The AP cited a study by UNLV's Center for Gaming Research that projects 14 states, including Mississippi, likely will have sports gambling within two years. That includes states that already have legal sports betting.

The study notes an additional 18 states that likely will offer it within five years. Among that latter group are North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri, states that border Tennessee.

Mississippi, North Carolina and Missouri have casinos. Kentucky doesn't but allows betting at horse tracks.

"I think states that don't have any form of gambling will probably stick to their guns," said Clyde Barrow, an expert in gambling policy and chairman of the political science department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, "but for states that already have (gambling), this is just sort of one more arrow in the quiver."

How SEC, colleges reacted to gambling ruling

The Supreme Court's ruling was a hot topic at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

"The No. 1 thing that everybody is concerned about is making sure that the integrity part of it stays intact," Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer said.

By and large, college administrators aren't celebrating the ruling.

"You do have what could turn into a very, very precarious and nefarious dynamic of wide-open gambling, and that's what's got everybody up in arms trying to figure out what to do," Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen said during a radio interview on Sports 56 WHBQ three days after the court ruling.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams thinks college athletics is left playing catch-up.

"I really do believe we as a total profession probably are half a step behind in the sense that we probably should have been doing a little bit more planning in this case, and we haven't," Williams said.

"Right now, I really don't think we have our hands around (the issue). And we will. We will in some months. But I don't think we have our hands around all of the parameters of gambling. It's something most of us have never really dealt with."

Educating athletes about steering clear of sports betting isn't a new concept, Vols football coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "That happens every year, everywhere I've ever been," he said. "I don't see it any different now."

NCAA, pro leagues don't allow athletes to bet on their games

Sports betting remains banned within the NCAA.

NCAA bylaw 10.3 states that athletes, coaches, athletic department staffers, conference staffers and nonathletic department employees who have responsibilities pertaining to athletics shall not bet on sports or supply information to people associated with sports wagering.

Gambling is also off limits for officials, said Steve Shaw, the NCAA secretary-rules editor for football.

Professional leagues also have rules to protect the integrity of games and prohibit athletes, coaches and league personnel from betting on games within their league.

The NBA and NFL have called for the federal government to set uniform regulations for states that choose to legalize sports betting, rather than letting the states determine individualized framework.

The NBA and MLB have lobbied to receive 1 percent of the total amount legally wagered on their games as an "integrity fee."

Out of the darkness ... now what?

The court's ruling will cause all parties involved to more fully recognize the realities of sports gambling.

"You get it out of the darkness and into the light," Fulmer said.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey wonders whether bringing sports gambling out of the shadows might cause more risk to the integrity of games.

"Fundamentally, there's a thought that, 'Wow, if it's out in the open, that's healthy. We can all pay attention,'" Sankey said.The truth is, no one seems to have their arms around the issue.

"It's uncharted territory," Bowen, the Memphis AD, said in his radio interview last month. "What will it mean? I don't know what it will mean."

USA TODAY and USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee's Mark Giannotto contributed to this story.

More to come

Just three states currently have fully legalized sports betting after Deleware and New Jersey started allowing it recently, but three more have passed bills — including Mississippi — to legalize it and several more have introduced legislation that could allow it.

Sports betting status by state

Full-scale legalized sports betting: DE, NH, NV

Recently passed bill to legalize: PA, WV, MS

Recently introduced bill to legalize, not yet passed: CA, CT, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MO, NY, OK, RI, SC

No recently introduced bills to legalize: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CO, FL, GA, HI, ID, MA, ME, MN, MT, NC, ND, NE, NH, NM, OH, OR, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, VT, WI, WY

 

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