News & Opinion

Court ruling opens door to golf gambling

At the 2002 Ryder Cup, I had one of my best experiences in golf.

Back in those days, the European Tour would allow for a betting house to have a tented facility onsite that allowed for wagering on each Ryder Cup match.

As each match progressed at The Belfry in England, the odds changed.

The tent was packed as golf and gambling proved to be an ideal pairing. A similar opportunity finally might exist for U.S. golf tournaments.

The Supreme Court on Monday handed down a 6-3 decision in Murphy v. NCAA, overturning the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 federal law that allowed Nevada (plus limited sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana and Oregon) to maintain a monopoly on sports betting. The ruling paves the way for all 50 states to allow gambling on sports, including golf.

In summarizing the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject. Supporters argue that legalization will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, which are often run by organized crime. Opponents contend that legalizing sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports. The legalization of sports gambling requires an im­portant policy choice, 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.”

With the court’s ruling, the states can decide whether they would want to permit sports betting and, thus, regulate it. That would add tax dollars to state coffers and introduce golf to a wider U.S. audience.

Professional sports leagues – including the PGA Tour, PGA of America, U.S. Golf Association and LPGA – need to decide on the best course of action for their respective constituents.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan already has provided a clear message that sports betting nationwide is in line with the Tour’s vision of driving support to the Tour and its players (“Would PGA Tour’s bet be worth the gamble?” April 17).

“You have to keep in mind that betting is happening right now, with illegal black markets and offshore betting, and we don’t have any exposure to what is happening,” Monahan told USA Today last month, in anticipation of a ruling. “If it’s legalized and regulated, you get to a point where you can better ensure the integrity of your competitions. You can provide adequate protection for consumers, which doesn’t exist today.” 

In recent weeks, Monahan directed Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president for tournament administration, and others in the organization to meet with state legislatures in contemplation of a favorable Supreme Court decision.

“Between myself and my colleagues, David Miller and Len Brown, we have been to seven,” Levinson said of the Tour’s statehouse visits. “And we joined the effort April 1st. Our colleagues from the NBA and Major League Baseball have been doing this since December and have visited quite a number of additional states on top of that. When we go have these meetings, we do it collectively. We have representatives from those three leagues together.”

Levinson doesn’t envision gambling onsite, such as at the Ryder Cup experience overseas. Instead, he anticipates the possibility of mobile or Internet gambling, using the smartphone as the vehicle for onsite gambling. He confirmed that the Tour would not be involved in the direct process of betting or taking bets on its website.

At the same time, the PGA Tour would like to be involved in the process, along with state legislators, to protect the competition.

“I think if you look at the good regulatory systems that already exist internationally, there's transparency and sharing of information between the betting operators, the regulators and the leagues,” Levinson said from his office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “And by doing so, we're all able to protect the integrity of the competition. So, if we all have visibility to the betting activity, we can monitor it and look for anomalies in the betting activity.” 

The USGA and PGA of America have not taken a position on gambling. The USGA said in a statement that it will “continue to watch and learn what this will mean to the sports industry, and particularly golf.”

Although the PGA Tour stands firmly behind the combination of sports gambling and golf, many facets remain uncertain. What the process will look like and how the Tour would benefit remains unclear. In time, the standards will take shape and many fans finally will enjoy being able to bet on their favorite players.

“If you can imagine in the future if we do go down the path of licensing our shot-by-shot ShotLink data, then there could be a whole wide variety of betting markets available to fans all over the world,” Levinson said. “And it could be a really great way to engage not only our current fans but a whole new audience down the road.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli