Oregon has a rather unique part to play in the drama unfolding seemingly by the day in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the longstanding Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
That’s because, unlike 46 states all over the country, Oregon was still legally able to offer some form of sports betting despite the near blanket ban imposed after the 1992 passage of the onerous, overreaching PASPA. Though the law and its prohibitions on regulated sportsbooks sanctioned by individual state governments was largely rendered moot within a few years after it took effect thanks to the en masse worldwide adoption of the internet – and legal online sports betting sites based in foreign countries with it - starting in the middle of the ‘90s is immaterial. Similarly, it does not matter much for the purposes of our discussion that the law was always unconstitutional right from the start, and that, finally, after just more than 25 years on the books, the SCOTUS decided to acknowledge PASPA’s breach of the 10th Amendment concept of States’ Rights.
What matters is that PASPA was the law of the land for 25 years and that, during that whole time, Oregon – despite being one of just four states to be grandfathered in with any kind of capacity to offer sports bets while the majority of other states could not do so legally – did not do much. Nevertheless, it is true that one of the main stipulations of PASPA was that only the states that had some manner of formalized sports betting law at the time of its passage could continue to offer action on sports to residents and visitors, and, even then, only up to the point that the laws passed prior to 1992 had established. That is to say that Oregon’s state legislators could not have passed any expansion of gambling beyond what it already had “on hand,” so to say, even if they had wanted to, but it is equally true to say that they did not want to expand their sports betting market either.
So, for some 15 years Oregonians looking to wager on sports had to make due with an NFL-only lottery (called, somewhat weakly, Sports Action) if they wanted to stick to a sports betting option sanctioned by the Beaver State, and many – it must be said – did not want to stick to this very limited option. There is really no way to know for sure, but it certainly seems as though there would have to be hundreds of thousands if not millions of Pacific Northwest residents that have placed wagers at legal offshore sportsbook websites and probably continue to do so.
But now that PASPA has been declared unconstitutional (at last), the possibility at least exists that real sports betting could make a return to Oregon, and not just in the form of an expanded sports lottery covering a variety of different sports, leagues and events, but actual honest to goodness sportsbooks this time.
And despite the many possibilities for increased state revenues in a cash-strapped local economy, despite the windfall sports betting could be for the state’s admittedly thriving tribal casino industry, and despite the dependence of upon lottery revenues by the state’s university system, still there are critics. These critical individuals (though we should give no consideration of them as being critical thinkers in the most exact sense) are already, not even two weeks after PASPA’s defeat in the Supreme Court, harping on all the usual tropes that go along with opposition to sports betting. They say there could be rampant point-shaving by athletes, intentionally botched calls by officials, corruption by administrators and coaches, and so on, but above it all rises the wail of “it could violate the integrity of the completion.”
These confounding types may think they have all the answers, but the facts remain that the sports lottery – which was allowed to lapse in 2007 and was never replaced – was a huge contributor to the state’s annual income, as the conventional lotto remains to this day, even a decade removed in time. Even if full-on sports betting were not to be implemented in Oregon in the wake of the PASPA repeal, and only sports lotteries made a return, it has been estimated (by reputable economics research and consultation firms such as ECONorthwest) that the Beaver State could pull in at least $50 million in net revenues.
The haul would be even greater, of course, if the state’s tribal casinos could start employing some bookies to go along with their slots, poker rooms, table games and so on, and revenues would probably quadruple if Oregon could take the national lead in online and mobile sports betting. That is something that no other state in the country except Pennsylvania is taking very seriously at the moment, for reasons that, frankly, baffle serious sports bettors who do most all of their wagering using mobile apps or computers with an internet connection.
Certainly the state institutions of higher learning, just to name but one of many examples, would welcome any new infusion of revenues from an expanded lottery, as 1 percent of the money taken in by the state lotto is supposed to be allocated for their use and often makes up a substantial proportion of each school’s annual budget. Whether or not they will get what they are owed, or even if they will get more than what they are expected, is doubtful so long as Oregon’s lawmakers do not embrace the opportunity that their state has had for years.
Other states – indeed most states – that were even more hard-pressed for cash had to do without the option to offer any kind of sports betting to their residents and visitors. Oregon’s policymakers should let that thought percolate for a while before they decide to once again not take the chance they’ve been given to enact sports betting in Oregon.
Here’s the real kicker: if Oregon decides not to start rolling out a sports betting product while other nearby states – namely California – do opt in for their slice of the sports wagering pie, then it will only be the politicians and the public coffer that suffer, not individual bettors. For them the option to use a legal offshore sportsbook site will always be available, and if Oregon’s legislators listen to the naysayers too much, then access to a market valued at somewhere between $150 billion and $250 billion could be well and truly off the table for good this time.