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Former senator Bill Bradley: Supreme Court ruling allowing gambling will poison sports

Former senator: Betting will debase sports and its values

Former Sen. Bill Bradley had nothing good to say Tuesday about the Supreme Court ruling that overturned the 1992 law he wrote that banned betting on sports in states where it was not already illegal.

An Olympic gold medalist who played on two championship New York Knicks teams, Bradley once wrote a book about how the values he learned playing basketball shaped his life. But the New Jersey Democrat now believes athletes will be treated like roulette chips by the gambling industry.

In an interview with the USA TODAY Network, Bradley also blasted a Supreme Court that makes narrow decisions with no regard for their impact, and said there was virtually no chance Congress would act again to prevent the worst consequences from happening. He also said he could not explain why the public — New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing sports betting by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin in 2011 — does not see the issue the way he does. 

Here's excerpts from the interview:

Q: What's your reaction to the ruling?

Bradley: I regret the ruling. I think the court ignored the impact that the ruling will have on sports in America, and values you learn form sports. I mean, they've turned every basketball player, football player and baseball player into a roulette chip.

And that doesn't mean pros only. Because now you can bet on college, you could even bet on high school. You could even bet on AAU, 14-year-olds playing in the finals of the AAU. And the only winner here are casinos, in my opinion.

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Q: Will Congress pass a new law to govern sports betting?

A: I think the chance of a federal law is minuscule. ... States now can do whatever they want. They don’t want a federal law. They want to do whatever they want to do. So the idea there's going to be any regulation of this nationally, I think, is highly unlikely.

They're not going to act. It's ridiculous. And you know, dedicating a certain percent of betting revenues to good causes? Never going to happen. Dedicating it to the leagues? Never going to happen. 

These are casino operators, they got what they wanted, they'll make money on it and meanwhile the effect on your child and your neighbor's child and the character of sports itself and the values that it teaches will be debased.

Q: Why haven't these consequences happened with Las Vegas and offshore betting on sports? 

A: Because it doesn’t pervade our whole culture. You don't go to your son's high school baseball or high school basketball game knowing there's a book on the game and somebody's betting on it.

This has no restrictions whatsoever. And somebody's going to do that. Somebody's going to be betting on whether two guys make free throws more than three guys. It just opens up the gate to pervasive influence that I don't think is positive for the game. Or positive for sports generally.

I mean, take a look at the Olympic ideal, take a look at the values you learn from sports in the most positive sense. Put that into the context of people betting on high school games. And it pollutes the whole thing. Kind of a poison seeping into the system of sports as we have known it.

Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP
The odds for the second round NCAA basketball tournament games are displayed on a board at the Mirage hotel-casino Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas in file photo. With 70 million-plus office pool brackets, Americans will put in the neighborhood of $2 billion at stake on the NCAA Tournament this week.

Q: Polls now show a majority of Americans support this, and it passed overwhelmingly when New Jersey put it on the ballot. Why do you think opinion has turned on this?

A: I don't think opinion did turn. I think that the Supreme Court turned. And the Supreme Court's decision here is similar to Supreme Court decisions on voting rights, where it eliminated Title V, and on Citizens United, where it permitted unlimited amounts of money to be spent in politics. It's that they make the decision on very narrow grounds with no understanding of its impact on society as a whole. 

So we now have politics where money is unlimited, we have voting where states can now restrict voting dramatically as a number have since the repeal. And we're now going to have states who can turn players into roulette chips. Even your son or daughter in college. And I think we'll see the effect.

Q: What do you think that effect will be?

A: Trouble ahead. 

Q: In what way?

A: I think the game will be corrupted. Do you really want to go to your son's high school basketball or football game and see people in the crowd who are betting, who are not rooting for your child to win or lose, but are betting on a spread? It'll be pervasive.

It is destructive. But again, it's the Supreme Court making a decision on very narrow grounds.

Q: But you did have an overwhelming vote for the New Jersey constitutional amendment. That was not the court acting, that was the people of New Jersey taking a vote. Did they not understand the impact, or were they just seeing dollar signs coming to the state?

A: I don't know. I can't answer that question. I don't have the polling. My guess is most people just thought this was like voting for gambling in Atlantic City. I don't know. I don't have any idea.

Q: Did you ever talk to Governor Christie about this since he was pushing this so hard?

A: No we never did talk about it. It never came up.

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