Football is back. College football season begins this week, with the NFL season opening with the traditional Thursday kickoff on September 6th, when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons. Every football season brings with it new rule changes and storylines. But this year brings a potential paradigm shift to how to the game is covered, discussed, and regulated. All because the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law the prohibited most states from allowing sports betting.
I would be remiss in not emphatically stating here the following: sports betting is probably not legal in your state. Yes, the Supreme Court struck down the prior law, but this holding cannot be summarized as “SCOTUS legalized sports betting.” That would be dangerously inaccurate. Instead, the important takeaway from Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, 138 S. Ct. 1461 (U.S. May 14, 2018) is that the federal government cannot regulate gambling nationwide. This is an issue to be determined on a state-by-state basis. Tenth Amendment. States’ Rights. That kind of thing.
What does this mean for you, the typical football fan watching the game from the comforts of home or at a sports bar with friends?
Short answer: it depends on where you live. Most any football fan is at least casually aware that you can bet on NFL and NCAA games if you are physically placing bets in Las Vegas, Nevada. For many years, that was the lone exception. After Murphy, many states anticipated a favorable holding and had various proposals and infrastructure in place to allow its citizens, residents, visitors, and tourists to place bets in their respective states.
As of today, August 28, 2018, the following states allow sports betting in one form or another: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, and Mississippi. That is it. This, of course, will change.
The trio of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Rhode Island are on the precipice of rolling out state-wide sports betting regulations, but have not fully-legalized it yet. New York has promoted a “short-term” plan as well, but recent proposed legislation to legalize sports betting failed in that state in June. It is still a work in progress.
According to ESPN’s tracker, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, California, Oregon, Montana, and Ohio are each considered to be “moving toward legislation” that would enable sports betting to be legalized statewide.
I live in Texas and am licensed to practice law in Texas. Texas is therefore where my personal and professional interests are based. Unfortunately, sports betting is not legal in Texas. Nor are there any active plans to legalize sports betting in Texas any time soon. Nothing has been announced and there are no discussions planned to even address the potential legality of Texas residents being able to legally gamble on football games this year. On paper at least, Texas is very anti-gambling. This disappoints me to my core, but that is the state of the law here today. And I expect that to remain the case for the foreseeable future.
What about online gambling?
Yes, the internet is still a thing. Yes, you can still place bets on sports on the internet – just like you were probably able to do a year ago. The legalities of sports betting online remain in flux. I will not list the various sites that you can access in the United States to set up accounts, place bets, and make other wagers. No need to bring unwanted attention to quasi-legal activities I may or may not partake in.
Yes, you can still play fantasy sports, including daily fantasy sports (DFS), in the same states where it was legal last year. That even includes Texas to some extent! Fantasy sports betting was carved out from the UIGEA as an explicit exception. The fallout from the Murphy decision may eventually force the DFS sites to recast their business models and how they operate in a more open sports betting environment, but for now – the status quo mostly remains intact.
But how can I bet on the coin flip of the Texans vs. Patriots game on September 9th? Can I do that online? Or do I need to fly to Vegas or one of these other states?
If you are physically in the State of Texas, you cannot legally place a money bet on a football game on any gambling site, through a bookie, or through any other type of wagering service. Not prop bets, not game scores, not moneyline bets, not even league-wide pools. It appears a trip to New Jersey or Nevada is in your future… assuming the legality of your gambling is of paramount importance to you.
News reporting and coverage
While the Murphy decision does not directly impact how news organizations and websites cover football and other sports, there are a few things that might become vastly more common in your gameday experience.
Be prepared for point spreads, over/unders, prop bets and other gambling terminology to be openly discussed by commentators, announcers, talking heads, ESPN personalities, your local newspaper reporters, and anyone who covers sports. It has been a running joke for many years for certain announcers like Al Michaels or Brent Musburger to make coded references to gambling and point spreads, it was mostly verboten to openly talk about gambling on air. No longer.
ESPN already has an entire subpage on its site dedicated to gambling resources. It would not be surprising for this aspect of ESPN’s coverage to get more attention, both on the air and in print.
Since one of the key underlying arguments against legalizing sports betting was about protecting the integrity of the games, will players be more open about discussing gambling and point spreads and such? This is unlikely as it will always be unlawful and illegal for players to place wagers on games they are actively participating in. Consider this the sports version of insider trading. Pete Rose is a pariah for a reason, and no state will encourage or ever legalize this type of behavior. That being said, I am anxious to see a player make an offhand remark about covering the point spread or scoring a garbage time touchdown to achieve a “backdoor cover.” Hopefully this will be considered more humorous than scandalous, but that remains to be seen. Never underestimate the ability for the public to resort to pearl clutching.
The legality of sports betting across the United States remains in its infancy. How the NFL and other professional sports leagues will adapt to these changes is unknown. The law is fluid, especially now. That being said – I am definitely excited to see how it plays out in the short term.
Meanwhile, I remain frustrated that the State of Texas continues to hold firm to its paternalistic views of gambling. Hopefully, when other states begin to prosper from the new legalized sports betting landscape, maybe Texas will join the fray. Texans will probably gamble billions of dollars on various football games this year. It only hurts the State to not legalize and regulate this activity in the process.
 The specific law was the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PAPSA).
 No, do not get me started on horse racing or dog racing. Those do not count.
 See 31 U.S.C. § 5362(1)(E)(ix).