Commentary

Leagues gain small anti-betting victory

An appeals court ruling gives leagues last chance to halt sports betting before Sept. 1

Updated: August 14, 2009, 7:40 PM ET
By Chad Millman | ESPN The Magazine

The battle pitting the NCAA and the four major sports leagues against Delaware came closer to a conclusion Friday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia granted the NCAA and leagues' request for an expedited hearing to keep Delaware from instituting sports betting at its three racetracks and casinos on Sept. 1, in time for the college and pro football seasons. Last week, the leagues were denied by a federal judge.

On Aug. 24, a three-judge panel will listen to arguments from the leagues that sports betting does irreparable harm to their reputations.

"The court made clear it wants to move quickly to resolve these issues, which is fine," said Brian Selander, a spokesman for Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. "We look forward to our day in court."

Because Delaware -- along with Montana, Nevada and Oregon -- had sports betting laws on the books prior to 1992, it is exempted from that year's Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prohibits states from being in the bookmaking business. But it hasn't allowed sports betting since it took parlay bets -- which require betting on two or more teams at one time -- during the 1976 NFL season.

Markell floated the idea of reauthorizing sports betting in March to help whittle down his state's $850 million budget deficit. Originally, the NFL and the NCAA had been Markell's most vocal opponents. But after the state passed a sports betting bill in May, the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball joined the NFL and the NCAA. All five of them filed a lawsuit in federal court in July. They're claiming that Delaware is violating its PASPA exemption by allowing single-game bets, as opposed to just parlays. They're also arguing that single-game bets violate the Delaware constitution, which requires that all forms of state-run gambling be based on chance, not skill.

"If I had to handicap this, I think the argument is stronger in state law," says Jeffrey Standen, a law professor at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and a sports gambling expert. "But the leagues would prefer to win a federal claim."

Soon after filing the lawsuit, the leagues and the NCAA asked for a preliminary injunction to keep Delaware from going forward with its plans. However, last week, a federal judge rejected the leagues' request, and set a trial date for Dec. 7.

It's expected the Court of Appeals will make its decision regarding the injunction before Delaware's Sept. 1 start date.


Chad Millman is a senior deputy editor at ESPN The Magazine and writes the Behind the Bets column. You can e-mail him here.