Last week, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch gave a speech from the Senate floor lamenting the lack of congressional debate over sports gambling in the months following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”). Hatch, an original PASPA co-sponsor, touched upon both the risks he foresees for sports gambling markets in the absence of federal legislation and the steps that he believes are appropriate for Congress to take to regulate the industry.

What did Senator Hatch propose Congress do to address sports gambling?

Senator Hatch reiterated that he still personally opposes legalized sports gambling, but nevertheless acknowledged that “the genie is out of the bottle” now that several states, including New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have taken concrete steps to establish operational legal sports betting markets. Accordingly, Senator Hatch indicated that he believes that certain minimum federal standards should be enacted to prevent states from engaging in a deregulatory race to the bottom in an effort to lure sports gambling money from outside their respective borders. For example, Senator Hatch cited to the need to restrict certain individuals, such as athletes and employees of a sport’s governing body, from placing wagers on games in which they have a proximate relationship. While Senator Hatch referenced New Jersey as an example of a state that has enacted this kind of prohibition, among other robust sports gambling regulations, he also expressed fear that without a federal law to establish baseline protections, both the integrity of sporting events and consumers would suffer. Accordingly, Senator Hatch indicated that in the coming weeks he intends to introduce a sports gambling bill which he hopes will help spur Congressional action in the near future.

The Rapidly-Changing Landscape for Sports Gambling

As noted in Senator Hatch’s speech, an uneven regulatory climate has evolved across the country since PASPA was overturned. Over the last several months, states have proven that they are motivated to move much quicker than Congress to address sports gambling issues. Notwithstanding the foregoing, there is no doubt that a federal sports gambling law would be a game changer in whatever form it may take. In fact, the mere prospect of a federal law may incentivize some state legislatures to put off legalization efforts until the federal government provides guidance. Until such time, however, given both the rapidly-changing regulatory climate and the uncertainty surrounding it, it is critical that those interested in entering this space work closely with knowledgeable gaming lawyers to review all aspects of their prospective licensing applications and associated offerings.