Sometimes even the Supreme Court of the United States decides to punt.
In this case, it was the right call. The court — on the broad principle that there are many matters that states can best decide for themselves — overturned a law that prevented states from allowing legalized sports betting, handing New Jersey a victory over entities that included the NCAA. That doesn’t mean that sports betting is necessarily good or bad, or that a state can’t prohibit such wagering if it wants. The decision does, however, mean that states can decide for themselves.
That brings us to Alabama. And having been brought to Alabama, that brings us to football. It’s certainly not the only sport on which a sporting man or woman might put down a dollar or two and take a flyer. In places like Las Vegas, where gambling is a huge, legal industry, you can bet on anything from the Kentucky Derby to the Soap Box Derby, from ski jumping to sumo wrestling. But when you talk about this state, the No. 1 passion (or addiction) is football. I’m not breaking any code of silence by pointing out that millions of dollars are already wagered on football, pro or college, in this state. It’s just done outside the bounds of regulation and taxation.
People are going to bet on football. The state may or may not get involved. The Legislature doesn’t have to legalize something just because people are already out there doing it, and just because something is legal in Colorado — to pick a state at random — doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be legal here. In a different form (the lottery), gambling has already been shelved here, over and over, which has made hamlets like Ardmore, Tenn., Bowdon, Ga. and Paxton, Fla., into familiar weekly destinations for some Alabamians.
Football, though, is different, one of the unifying threads in the culture of the state. Also, revenue is revenue.
That doesn’t mean that anything is going to happen quickly here. Mississippi appears ready to field the Supreme Court’s punt, rush the offense onto the field in the casino version of the no-huddle offense and have sports wagering ready to go before Ole Miss takes the field against Texas Tech on opening weekend. Some of that is an infrastructure advantage: Mississippi has a number of “riverboat” casinos already in place in places like Tunica and Biloxi. In Alabama, the gaming infrastructure is less organized — a few casinos, bingo halls and racetracks — and the legislative history of the gambling industry has been contentious at times.
There isn’t anything wrong with proceeding cautiously and seeing what, if anything, works. I’m not going to jump out ahead of the editorial board at The Tuscaloosa News and endorse one course of action or the other without more information. I will be interested to hear what some of our 2018 gubernatorial candidates have to say on the matter.
In the meantime, the Southeastern Conference and the University of Alabama are in “wait and see” mode. UA director of athletics Greg Byrne said on Monday that UA was “aware of today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, and we will monitor the developments closely as they occur.” If tax revenues from gambling are earmarked for higher education, as is the case in many lottery states, then it isn’t just athletics that will be involved.
Right now, there are a limited number of things that you can bet on in Alabama. But if you wanted to bet that we are a long way from the finish line, one way or another, you would probably win.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.