Orrin Hatch Wants Federal Framework for Legal Sports Betting

Orrin Hatch was one of the original authors of the Professional and Amateur Sports Act of 1992 (PASPA), the legislation that prevented any new states from regulating sports betting. Now that PASPA has been overturned by the Supreme Court, however, Sen. Hatch (R-Utah) wants to take another crack in regulating the sports betting industry at the federal level.

Orrin Hatch sports betting

Sen. Orrin Hatch speaks at the American Enterprise Institute in March. Hatch wants to introduce legislation to provide some federal guidelines for legal sports betting. (Image: Rick Bowmer/AP)

In a media release issued hours after the 6-3 Supreme Court decision on Monday, Senator Hatch released a statement outlining his desire to create some kind of federal rules that could govern the anticipated wave of state-level sports betting markets which may open in the months and years to come.

“The issues posed by sports betting are much the same as they were 25 years ago,” Hatch said in the announcement. “But the rapid rise of the web means that sports betting across state lines is now just a click away. We cannot allow this practice to proliferate amid uneven enforcement and a patchwork race into the regulatory base.”

Call for Federal Regulation, Not Prohibtion

The references to online betting will seem familiar to poker players. Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) often accused geolocation and age verification technology for online gaming of being unreliable, despite signs to the contrary from jurisdictions that had implemented those tools.

But unlike Adelson’s attempts to prevent the spread of online gaming, Hatch’s bill appears to be about regulation than prohibition. According to his press release, his strategy is to create legislation which would “maintain the integrity of the sport, protect consumers, protect against underage and problem gambling, and assist countries who decide not to permit sports betting within their borders.”

Talk of ethics has been one of the paramount issues brought up by athletic organizations when it comes to legalized sports betting. According to Hatch, it is also one of the key reasons why he wishes to bring his bill forward.

“At stake here is the very integrity of sport,” Hatch said. “That is why I intend to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to help protect principle and honesty in the athletic arena. I invite my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in addressing this important issue.”

Will Congress Act?

In writing the majority opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito made it clear that while SCOTUS had discovered PASPA to be unconstitutional, Congress had the right to “regulate sports gambling directly.” That leaves open the possibility of bills that could restrict or even prohibit sports betting in america.

However, the odds are long that Congress will decide to pass laws that put any severe restrictions on the fledgling industry, especially anytime this season. Movement on everything but the most crucial legislation tends to be slow at the run-up to elections, and many of Hatch’s Republican colleagues will likely see this as a states’ rights issue, not need the federal government to intervene.

That said, there could be an appetite for some basic criteria to be put in place nationally, especially as sports leagues like the NBA have stated they would prefer a consistent, federal solution to the sports betting issue.

“This is possibly a bipartisan issue,” Las Vegas gaming lawyer Kate Lowenhar-Fisher told USA TODAY. “It makes for strange bedfellows.”

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