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EDITORIAL: Report finds that many states ready to move on legal sports betting

As the U.S. Supreme Court ponders a New Jersey case that could allow more states to offer full-blown sports wagering, a new poll finds that attitudes on the issue are fast-evolving.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports that many states are poised to approve sports wagering.

That means Congress will likely face pressure to legalize the activity even if the high court upholds the current ban.

According to a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, most Americans — 55 percent — now support making professional sports betting legal. That’s a complete reversal of attitudes in just 25 years. When Congress in 1992 passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act outlawing sports betting except in a handful of states, including Nevada, a Gallup poll showed that 56 percent of Americans supported the move.

The changing mores are now reflected in many state legislatures. The AP reported this week that a new study estimates that as many as 18 states will introduce bills to regulate sports betting in 2018, with 11 likely to pass. Eilers &Krejcik Gaming, which tracks gambling legislation nationwide, told the wire service that the numbers could be even higher, estimating that more than 30 states could seek to get in on the action.

Finding a new stream of tax revenue is no doubt a primary motivation. Forbes reports that some estimates put the potential rake at more than $6 billion annually — and as high as $15.8 billion if all 50 states opted to legalize such wagers.

The high court case, argued last month, stems from a ballot initiative that New Jersey voters approved in 2011 that legalized sports betting — in defiance of federal law — in order to boost the state’s sagging casino revenues. Professional sports leagues and the NCAA successfully sued to block the measure, but New Jersey lawmakers responded by passing a revised version of the law in 2014 intended to get around the injunction. The leagues again sued, and the issue eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.

At issue is the much-forgotten 10th Amendment and whether the federal government can “commandeer” states to advance its own policy goals. A ruling in favor of New Jersey could potentially have ramifications for a whole host of issues beyond sports betting.

Nevada’s gaming interests are obviously watching closely — states prepared to act include California, Arizona and Colorado. But the Eilers &Krejcik report, along with the newest poll numbers showing that public support for legal sports betting continues to increase, indicates that even if the Supreme Court sanctions the federal prohibition, its future remains in doubt.

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