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Louisiana State Attorney General Jeff Landry

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Louisiana's Jeff Landry is one of five state attorneys general who are supporting New Jersey in its challenge to the federal law that says only Nevada can run sports books.

No, this doesn't mean Landry believes that what Louisiana needs is more gambling. The point of the amicus brief he signed is to preserve states' independence. Ours is supposed to be a system of joint sovereignty, but an overweening federal government has made the 10th Amendment the redheaded stepchild of the Bill of Rights.

Under the amendment, “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States.” Thus, according to New Jersey, if it wants to embrace sports gambling, that should be none of the federal government's business. The Supreme Court has just delayed a ruling on the issue and asked the U.S. Attorney General to file a brief.

New Jersey voters have approved sports betting, but it is forbidden under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. New Jersey's challenge to the constitutionality of that law has so far come up short, but the Supreme Court, thanks partly, perhaps, to the nudge from Landry et al, may yet conclude the feds are overreaching.

PASPA forbade the states to legalize sports betting, but Nevada's plush emporia, together with modest lotteries and pools in Oregon, Delaware and Montana, were grandfathered in. Various forms of gambling had been newly legalized in various parts of the country at the time — Louisiana, for instance, had just introduced casinos — and Congress was evidently wary of any further descent into iniquity.

The sports betting ban was strongly supported by the NCAA, MLB, the NFL, the NBA and NHL which feared for the integrity of the games that bring in all the dough.

They had a point, since betting on games has obviously created an incentive to fix them all over the world. Even cricket, which has always been a byword for upright and gentlemanly behavior, has had a rash of scandals in recent years as the bookies ramped up their operations.

But people are going to bet on games without it is legal or not. Why, even you are an offender it you fill in a couple of square on the Super Bowl pool at your neighborhood bar. This is harmless, of course, but betting bans, like all forms of prohibition, are an invitation for the gangsters to move in. The illegal betting market in the United States, according to the American Gaming Association, is worth $150 billion a year.

It may be that illegal gambling is a bigger threat to honest endeavor in the sports arena than any system that New Jersey, given the chance, might be inclined to license. Legalized gambling is regulated and policed, while consumer protection is not so robust when the mob runs the show.

The American Gaming Association is naturally in full support of New Jersey's attempt to scuttle PASPA, averring that it will promote “growth and investment.” That of course, means that it will enrich the association's members.

New Jersey came out in favor of sports betting when its racetracks and the casinos of Atlantic City were feeling the pinch. Economic development is always the pretext for an expansion of gambling, although experience in Louisiana and elsewhere indicates that it really amounts to a backdoor tax on suckers.

Still, if New Jersey wants sports betting, the wording of the 10th Amendment would seem to mean that the feds should not intervene. It is not that simple, however, for the concept of dual sovereignty has to be balanced with the Supremacy and Commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Landry and the other attorneys general aver their concern is “not with what Congress regulates but how it does so.” According to their brief, PASPA “fundamentally alters the nature of federal/state relations.” Landry has never been a gambling proponent, and clearly he is not seeking an opportunity to bring sports betting to Louisiana. However, if New Jersey could use some extra revenue, so could Louisiana in spades. Maybe this litigation will give someone in Baton Rouge ideas.

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.