Washington, D.C.—Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner delivered the following remarks today at a hearing titled “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America”:

Good morning, and I’d like to welcome you all to today’s hearing.

First of all, let me say that this topic that we’re going to be discussing today is probably just as important in terms of setting the future of American society as what’s going on before our Judiciary Committee counterparts on the other side of the Capitol. But obviously we don’t have the attention of the media since we have a mostly empty press table over there. However, this is going to be an issue that is going to be very important in terms of making a determination of how professional and amateur sports are played, and any regulation, if any, that Congress should decide to put on the huge amounts of money that are bet both in legal and, in some cases, illegal forums.

The Subcommittee will examine the state of sports gambling in America. This subject is extremely important and complex. Development in the past year mean it may soon affect the lives of millions of Americans.

Sports in America are tightly woven into our lives. They are our pastime, our passion. They bring us together; they divide us—hopefully in good sportsmanship; they serve as an escape; and yet they consume us.

I don’t watch much television, but when the Packers and the Brewers are on, the tv is on in my house. And I’m able to get away from what goes on in this business. And I’m particularly happy to see the Brewers on their way to the World Series. Come Milwaukee if you want to see some really great baseball played in the month of October.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, in the case of Murphy v. NCAA, struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA.  PASPA was enacted in 1992, with the express purpose of protecting the integrity of professional and amateur American athletics. 

As written, PASPA effectively prohibited state-sanctioned sports betting nationwide, although contained a “grandfather clause” exempting states where wagering was already legal, including Nevada. Its nullification by the Supreme Court was preceded by many years of litigation, mostly involving the State of New Jersey and its efforts to establish a legal sports wagering regime.

In issuing the Murphy decision, Justice Alito wrote that the law unconstitutionally “commandeered” the main regulatory power of the states to enact their own gambling laws. Of course, the Tenth Amendment provides that all powers not expressly granted to the federal government are reserved to the states, or the people. 

Specifically, Justice Alito stated that “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice,” and this is one we will be making here sometime in the near future, “but the choice is not ours to make. 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. PASPA ‘regulate[s] state governments’ regulation of their citizens.  The Constitution gives Congress no such power.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling means that, unlike during the 25-year existence of PASPA, states are now free to enact their own statutory and regulatory sports gambling schemes.

And that is why we are here.  This panel before us should show how this issue permeates every level of our government, and crosses from the gambling industry to professional athletics, to organizations dedicated to protecting citizens, and to state regulatory bodies.

Today, I expect to hear from our distinguished panel about the options available in the post-Murphy environment. One option, of course, would be for Congress to re-enact a federal ban on sports gambling.  Some have suggested that doing so would be as simple as prohibiting corporations – not states – from engaging in sports gambling activities. And it would curb any use of legalized, commercialized sports wagering to prey on vulnerable citizens.

Another possibility would be for Congress to defer to the states, and allow them to legalize and regulate the sports gaming business. This option is attractive to many who want the free market to work its will, since many current state laws and regulations already address issues as age restrictions, record keeping requirements and licensing and suitability determinations.

And a third option would be for Congress to adopt uniform, minimum federal standards, which would guide the imposition of sports wagering across the nation, in states that desire to legalize the practice.

Now let me express a personal view. With the huge amount of money that is involved in sports gambling, both above board and below board, the temptation is there to throw games—whether it’s done by officials, whether it is done by players, or whether it’s done by the actual teams. The first commissioner was appointed to oversee baseball following the Black Sox scandal. Recently, there was an NBA referee that ended up being accused, and I believe being convicted, of helping throw a game. And what I can say also being a Green Bay Packer fan is: after any controversial call—like the extremely bad calls against Clay Matthews for roughing the passer, in my opinion—the question will arise is whether the call was made by a referee who was calling them as he saw them or by a referee who was trying to influence the outcome of the game.

Unless something is done, in my opinion, to protect honest and legitimate betters from those who would like to tilt the games one way or the other illegally, unethically, and against the sports rules, we are going to be in for a huge amount of trouble in the future.

As I said at the outset, this is a complex issue, involving a variety of other issues – and statutes, outside of PASPA. There may need to be updates to other federal statutes to reflect this new reality. As a husband, father, grandfather, and sports fan, I am committed to two things: protecting our children and the games we love. Any solution crafted by Congress must address those two principles.

I thank our distinguished panel of witnesses, and look forward to your testimony.