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As the resident Delawarean on this journal, and an advocate of sports betting, it is fitting that I provide an update on the current combat between the “Small Wonder” and the whole army of American amateur and professional sports–a true David vs. Goliath battle.
After the Delaware Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion regarding the legality of multi-game “parlay” bets, but reserving comment on the legislature-proposed single-game betting system, the NFL and its friends MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA joined together to file a lawsuit in federal court. That trial is scheduled for December of this year, months after the kickoff of the 2009 NFL season when the first bets will be placed. Claiming irreparable harm for the leagues if Delaware proceeds, the plaintiffs filed an emergency request in the District Court of Delaware to stop the action while the lawsuit is pending. Chief Judge Gregory M. Sleet denied the request, however, because the leagues were unable to prove any of three requirements: (1) that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed at trial, (2) that there would be irreparable harm to the leagues unless prompt action is taken, and (3) that Delaware would not be irreparably harmed by the injunction.
The next day, the leagues appealed the district court’s decision to the Third Circuit, and then filed a motion to expedite the process so that the parties can have a ruling before the September 1 start date. While I see the merits of resolving the dispute before the betting begins, and some experts believe the Third Circuit will agree and speed up the case, the leagues’ discontent with the law seems misplaced and hypocritical.
Conceding that Delaware’s constitution allows multi-game bets, the leagues argue that Delaware is prohibited from offering single game bets because the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which exempted Delaware and three other states, only allowed the type of betting that was in play before the act–in Delaware’s case, only multi-game parlays on NFL games.
Without resorting to statutory construction regarding the act, or any constitutional argument on states’ rights, the leagues’ assertion that they will suffer irreparable harm is as questionable as carrying a loaded gun in your sweatpants at a NYC nightclub–or maybe just wearing sweatpants to a nightclub, generally? First, underground betting takes place everywhere. Second, NFL owners recently voted unanimously to license their logos for use on state lottery tickets. And third, as Chief Judge Sleet noted in his opinion, sponsorship deals between sports team owners and casinos have grown in number, as have owner-run gambling establishments. It seems the leagues are angry only because they will not receive a cut of the action.
But perhaps the lowest blow comes from the NCAA, which decided after the district court’s denial of the injunction to prevent Delaware schools from hosting postseason events. The NCAA championships cabinet would have allowed normal playoff games awarded after a successful season, but the Executive Committee overruled it and prohibited those postseason games in addition to pre-determined events like hosting a bracket of the March Madness Tournament. What this means is that the University of Delaware’s I-AA powerhouse football team or nationally acclaimed lacrosse team would have to play its postseason games on the road. This a tad bit ironic considering the NCAA promotes the Las Vegas Bowl each year, which the association says isn’t technically a NCAA championship game. (Don’t get me started on the merits of the BCS.)
Perhaps Delaware Governor Jack Markell’s chief of staff, Tom McGonigle, best sums up the NCAA’s action:
Not having gotten its way in court [Wednesday], it is disappointing that the NCAA would take this retaliatory action. Importantly, Delaware law prohibits any type of sports betting on any Delaware college game. So, as applied to Delaware, this new policy only serves to punish the very students the NCAA claims to be trying to protect.
* Update: This past Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles signed former University of Delaware quarterback Matt Nagy to be the team’s backup quarterback. The 31-year-old alum had bounced around the Arena Football League since his graduation from the university, dreaming of one day playing for a professional team. The following day the NFL told the Eagles that it was voiding Nagy’s contract for undisclosed reasons. More retaliation? Just a thought . . . .
– Andrew Cunningham
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