LINCOLN — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday opened the doors to sports gambling across the country.
What happens next in Nebraska, though, is anyone’s bet.
A major factor could be how the NCAA, which opposed changing the federal law prohibiting sports betting, responds to the ruling. And Gov. Pete Ricketts, a gambling opponent, said he would oppose any plans to change Nebraska’s laws.
But a lawmaker in Iowa said he intends to introduce legislation to allow betting when the State Legislature convenes in January.
The ruling struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.
Every summer, Omaha plays host to the NCAA College World Series, and the city has hosted NCAA basketball playoffs and Olympic Swim Trials. The current NCAA policy says no session of an NCAA championship “may be conducted in a state with legal wagering that is based on single-game betting or the outcome of any event ... in a sport in which the NCAA conducts a championship.”
In response to the court’s ruling, NCAA Chief Legal Officer Donald Remy said the organization was still reviewing the decision to understand overall implications for college sports.
“We will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court,” he said in a statement.
Ricketts said Monday that there are no plans to legalize sports betting in Nebraska. He said Nebraska joined the lawsuit as a matter of principle.
In Iowa, State Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, told the Des Moines Register on Monday that he will definitely introduce a proposal to allow wagering on college and professional sports events.
The court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling, with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.
One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would probably offer sports betting within five years.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said the ruling “is a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner.”
All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.
Ricketts is a former board member of Gambling With the Good Life, which opposes gambling expansion in Nebraska.
“If you look at the things that go along with gambling, for every dollar you collect in tax revenue, you spend three in social services,” Ricketts said.
At least two members of the Legislature disagree.
State Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said he’s interested in giving voters a chance to legalize sports betting in Nebraska but said he doubts that it will happen.
The senator, who manages keno lotteries for several Nebraska communities, said voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment to allow legal sports betting. He said he may call colleagues to see if they would be interested in calling a special session to put the matter on the fall ballot.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, the Democratic candidate for governor, said that he’s seen polling that says 60 to 70 percent of Nebraskans would support expanded gambling and that the extra revenue would help with the state’s troubled budget situation.
He said it was “shortsighted” of Ricketts to not let the voters decide.
“The governor has put a lot of wind into that 61 percent of the voters wanted the death penalty,” Krist said. “Why is he shy on this issue?”
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said Monday afternoon that no one had contacted him about a special session and that he wasn’t sure that there was a demand for it, given that recent petition drives to put expanded gambling on the ballot failed.
The Supreme Court’s decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state.
More than a dozen states, including Nebraska, had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the 1992 law. New Jersey said that the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports but that Congress can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, although not a supporter of expanded gambling, said last year that the case raised an important issue of federalism. The brief argued that the federal law was unconstitutional because it barred states from changing their own laws to allow sports betting.
“Nebraska joined (the) brief solely because of the importance of the constitutional principle involved and not in any way based on the underlying state law at issue, ” he said.
Schumacher still sees sports betting as a way the state could win big. It could bring in millions in state revenue that could be used to finance schools, offsetting high property taxes, but other states, and not Nebraska, will take advantage of it, the state senator said.
“I think probably that most states are going to make money off of Husker football, but Nebraska won’t be,” Schumacher said. “We’ll just continue to do what we’re doing now ... (illegal sports gambling) off the record, under the table, 100 percent cash, with no regulation and no revenue.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.