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High court ruling could bring sports gambling back to Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Lottery was already planning to introduce betting on virtual sports this year.

But a ruling Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for states to introduce legal betting on real games, too — the type of wagering that bettors in this state once enjoyed for nearly two decades.

In a case brought by New Jersey, which has sought to allow sports gambling at racetracks and casinos, the court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that prohibited state-run sports gambling. It could create wide-ranging ramifications for professional leagues and the NCAA, which has long opposed sports betting to the point it does not hold championship events in states that allow it.

“While we are still reviewing the decision to understand the overall implications to college sports, we will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court,” said Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer.

States will now be allowed to decide whether to legalize such wagering within their borders. Count the Oregon Lottery as keenly interested in making that happen for the first time since 2007, when the NFL parlay game Sports Action ended after 18 years while the state courted NCAA championship events.

“We have been interested and have been talking for some time now about reintroducing some level of sports-based play into our portfolio,” said Matt Shelby, a public information manager for the Oregon Lottery.

“We’ve got some history there with a lottery offering, but just exactly what a new offering could look like is too early to say at this point. But we’re very interested.”

Legal sports betting in Oregon was born in 1989, when the state Legislature created Sports Action to help fund athletic departments at the state’s seven public universities. NBA games were added in 1990 but ended after just one season.

The federal act banning state-run sports betting was passed in 1992, but bettors in Oregon could continue wagering because the state was one of four states whose sports lottery games were grandfathered.

The Oregon Legislature’s first attempt to kill it off, and replace the money it provided universities with a percentage of video lottery funds, came in 1999 but quickly fizzled. Three years earlier, the University of Oregon bid to host NCAA men’s basketball tournament games only to be rebuffed because of the organization’s opposition to the state’s sports betting. Another bid was rejected in 1997, as was yet another bid later, this time to host NCAA women’s tournament games.

By 2003, when a second game called Scoreboard was added by the Oregon Lottery, sports betting delivered $3 million to those athletic departments. But sports betting was on its last legs. Within two years House Bill 3466 was introduced, which sought to eliminate sports lottery games and replace its funds to athletic departments with a 1 percent cut of the state’s total lottery revenues. Gov. Ted Kulongoski eventually signed the bill in 2007 and legalized sports gambling here was no more.

The NCAA’s reward was swift: Just two years later Portland’s Rose Garden was a host site for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — the first time since 1983 that Big Dance games were played in Oregon. Portland has since hosted men’s tournament games in 2009, 2012 and 2015, and men’s and women’s tournament games will return in 2019, 2020 and 2022.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court Monday. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

The NFL, in a statement, said it intended to ask Congress 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.”

Shelby said any new gambling offering on real sports is considered a “good thing” by the Oregon Lottery, which is seeking to increase revenues and payouts for state programs by attracting new players. It is already planning a rollout later this year of a virtual sports game, which combines Keno’s number generation with video-game quality graphics that depict a football game.

“The intent with that is to start to really put our toe in the water of returning to sports, even though it’s not real,” he said.

Perhaps soon, bettors here might be wagering once again on the real thing.

Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

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