Editorials

After the Supreme Court ruling, Florida needs to gamble carefully on sports betting

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to legal sports betting across the nation when it struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on Monday. Can there be much doubt that Florida will walk through that door?

We seriously doubt the Florida Legislature will be able to resist the allure of cashing in. In a state that already has a lottery, dog racing, horse racing, off-track betting, casino gambling on and off tribal lands and jai alai betting, it’s hard to justify drawing an arbitrary line at sports gambling.

Justices on a 6-3 split found the federal law unconstitutional because rather than regulate gambling at the federal level, it prohibited actions by state legislators. That, the court ruled, violates the 10th Amendment.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, noted, “The legislative powers granted to Congress are sizeable, but they are not unlimited. The Constitution confers on Congress not plenary legislative power but only certain enumerated powers … And conspicuously absent from the list of powers given to Congress is the power to issue direct orders to the governments of the States.”

It was a reasonable conclusion, and one that could have wider implications as states challenge the Trump administration on everything from sanctuary cities and immigration to natural resource extraction.

Many states will jump at the chance to legalize sports betting, regulating and taxing an activity that has long prospered in the shadows. Illegal sports gambling is estimated to be a $150 billion industry.

While Florida legislators are likely to join the crowd of states moving to legalization, some analysts wonder whether passage of Amendment 3 — prohibiting the Legislature from approving casino gambling without voter approval — would prevent the state from expanding into sports gambling without a public referendum.

Legislators should avoid any pressure to call a special session to update gambling laws before November. They need time to think about the ramifications of expanding into sports gambling and get the details right.

One definite ramification to consider is what the availability of sports gambling could mean for gambling addiction. The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling estimates that about 181,000 Florida residents have gambling problems and another 770,000 are at-risk for becoming problem gamblers.

Experts worry sports betting may prove particularly addictive for young people, especially if it is available online.

Sports betting will be attractive to a broader range of people than, say, casino gambling. It is a sure bet that a portion of those new gamblers will end up with a gambling problem. The Legislature therefore must make sure a portion of any new gambling revenue is devoted to boosting addiction treatment.

Speaking of revenue, legislators also need to make sure they keep any promises they make about where additional revenue from this gambling expansion will go. Lottery money, for instance, was supposed to provide additional support for education. Instead, the Legislature played a shell game and education saw no genuine or lasting boost in funding.

There is definitely an opportunity here that the Legislature should explore. Revenue from sports betting could be quite significant — and many core state services could certainly use a funding boost.

But legislators should proceed thoughtfully and deliberately. Before they do anything, they should carefully consider what this expansion of gambling in the state would mean, who it could potentially hurt, and how to minimize that.

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