For months, while the NBA and Major League Baseball began making their voices heard in the dozens or so states looking to legalize sports betting, the NFL sat on the sidelines, awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court.
That ruling came down Monday, and suddenly the NFL appears ready to get into the game.
“The NFL’s long-standing and unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of our game remains absolute,” a league spokesman said in a statement Monday after the Supreme Court found the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) to be unconstitutional.
“Congress has long-recognized the potential harms posed by sports betting to the integrity of sporting contests and the public confidence in these events. Given that history, we intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of our game.”
The Supreme Court struck down PASPA, paving a way for states to legalize sports betting if they choose. As states move forward, the NFL’s focus is on Washington, D.C., and the league might have found a political partner in veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who said Monday he will introduce sports betting legislation.
“At stake here is the very integrity of sports,” Hatch said in a statement. “That’s why I plan to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to help protect honesty and principle in the athletic arena.”
There is already a federal sports betting bill in Congress. In December, Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey introduced legislation — the GAME Act — that includes a regulatory framework. Pallone’s staff reached out to the NFL several times in recent months, but was told the league wasn’t interested in discussing until after the decision.
Many states are not waiting for Congress to act. New Jersey racetrack Monmouth Park plans to be taking bets within weeks. Delaware, Mississippi and West Virginia are among the states that also appear poised to move quickly.
For decades, the NFL has opposed the legalization of sports betting over fears that it would impact the integrity and public perception of the games. At the same time, NFL owners invested in daily fantasy companies and voted overwhelmingly in favor of relocating the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, the epicenter of U.S. sports betting.
In March, the NFL presented an analysis on sports betting at the owners meetings in Orlando. The analysis examined revenue opportunities, the impact of legalization on fans, and ways to manage integrity issues.
“Nothing was resolved on this,” one owner told ESPN after the presentation. “Mostly a heads-up message. We need to be prepared for the possible change in the law; here is what the NBA does; this is the way the Premier League deals with gambling. More discussion to follow at future league meetings.”
Owners are slated to meet again next week in Atlanta.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano contributed to this report.