By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sports fans on Monday shrugged off a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could open the door to legalize sports betting, saying it would likely have little impact on baseball, basketball and football games already subject to off-the-books gambling.
The nation's top court struck down a 1992 law that widely outlawed gambling on college and professional sports, calling it unconstitutional and likely touching off a rush by gaming businesses and states to cash in on an expected multibillion-dollar industry.
"I don’t bet sports, but I think people will do what they always do. If they want to gamble, they’re going to find a way to gamble," Kevin Getler, 56, said as he arrived at the Red Rock Casino Resort on Monday afternoon for a Las Vegas Knights playoff hockey watch party.
The fans gathered at the Red Rock to see the Knights, who are in their inaugural National Hockey League season, take on the Winnipeg Jets, saw the legalization of sports betting as having little impact on the Las Vegas tourism or gaming economies.
"It’s not going to hurt nothing. As far as gambling goes, this thing has been going on for years. You’re never going to hurt this town. We’ve got so much to offer," said Edward Millard, a native of Philadelphia who has lived in Las Vegas for two decades.
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In Houston, basketball fans arriving at the Toyota Center to see the Rockets take on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals said they would consider betting on games for the first time if it were legal.
"There is certainly the potential for harm to the integrity of the games but that risk already exists in a wholly unregulated shadow economy that exploits gamblers with usurious interest rates and robs them of any vehicle to seek redress if they are ripped off," said Charles Adams, a 46-year-old lawyer and former judge.
"Most importantly, the current situation is a significant funding resource for organized crime. That ends with legalization," Adams said.
SAY IT AIN'T SO
Experts, however, cautioned that illegal gambling was unlikely to disappear just because sports fans could make legal wagers and that professional sports leagues would likely take a cautious approach.
George Belch, a San Diego State University marketing professor and co-founder of the school's Sports Management MBA program, said that on one hand the major sports leagues would welcome the television viewers that gambling could attract in a time of declining ratings, but would be leery about damaging the integrity of their sports.
Baseball suffered one of its biggest scandals when eight members of the Chicago White Sox, including star outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.
And former Cincinnati Reds star-turned manager Pete Rose was banned from Baseball Hall of Fame over accusations that he bet on games.
"Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games. We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal," Major League Baseball said in a written statement.
The National Football League expressed similar sentiments, calling on Congress to enact a "regulatory framework" for sports betting.
In Chicago, fans who gathered in neighborhood bars to watch the e Cubs take on the Atlanta Braves, said they saw no harm in making legal what was an already widespread practice.
At the Lucky Door bar and grill on the grounds of Wrigley Field, Brent Benedict, a restaurant worker from Lombard, Illinois was celebrating his 42nd birthday with a friend.
Looking at a television with the baseball game in progress, Benedict said: "If the Cubs are down 2 runs in the bottom of the 7th and they put up 50 to 1 odds, I'd bet $50."
(Additional reporting by Bob Chiarito in Chicago, John L. Smith in Las Vegas and, Amanda Orr in Houston; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Michael Perry)