In a decision that could have wide-reaching effects, the United States Supreme Court today decided to lift the federal ban on sports gambling that had been in place since 1992. This will allow individual states to decide whether they want to legalize sports betting or not, and a bunch of them intend to get in on the act as soon as possible.
This decision had been coming for a long time. States like New Jersey have long fought against the fact that only Nevada could have legal sports betting in the United States, while most of the major sports organizations like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA have supported the ban. When New Jersey voted to legalize it in 2011, those pro sports pointed to the federal ban and challenged it. The leagues won in nearly ever legal environment along the way, but lost in Supreme Court.
It should be made clear that this doesn’t mean it’s an absolute slam dunk for the states that are interested in it. The United States Congress could still decide to enact some sort of federal regulation on sports betting, taking the power away from the states again. But it also could just leave it up to them, and based on the 1992 ban being shot down due to the fact that it “violated constitutional principles limiting the federal government from controlling state policy”, it might very well choose to do so.
Most professional sports leagues in the US reacted to the news with trepidation. That’s not surprising, considering the integrity of their games could be brought into question if legalized betting causes any sort of conflicts of interest. They want more regulatory framework put into place, which is understandable.
But will this have any effect on MMA?
Well, it could. The UFC is based out of Nevada, which is the only current state that allows regular sports betting. Many of the promotion’s biggest cards take place there, and fans are free to place any bets they like in Vegas. While legalized gambling in other states will undoubtedly increase the total amounts being bet on fights across the country, fans might be less apt to travel to Nevada if they can bet in their home state. Part of the fun for some people attending UFC events from out of town is the ability to win or lose some cash based on the outcome. If they can do that up the street from their home, it might mean some of those people stay home.
That seems pretty minor though, overall.
The major issues for other sports are the possibility of rigged games due to gambling. Think Tim Donaghy, or Pete Rose. The UFC has been around since 1993, with a lot of cards in Nevada, and they have never had a scandal in regards to sports betting in the state as of yet. In fact, the only one that has come to light actually took place in South Korea, when UFC fighter Tae Hyun Bang was given jail time for his participation in fight fixing last year.
The other effects might be in regards to how you can bet on MMA. For instance, DraftKings and FanDuel immediately announced that they were getting in the sports betting game based on the ruling. Both sites offer MMA fantasy games right now, so you’d assume that they would offer MMA betting as well. That could be a very good thing for fans.
Overall, it remains to be seen what kind of framework will be put in place, and how many states decide to get on the train if Congress decides to let them figure it out on their own. But as a fan of betting on sports (even if I live in another country), I’m cautiously optimistic. Others, like UFC announcer Jon Anik, are way more than optimistic. He’s downright giddy: