Although they took a non-traditional path, the Oregon Ducks will play in the 2020 Pac-12 championship game.
However, customers of the only legal online sportsbook in the state — Oregon Lottery Scoreboard — won’t find any college football betting markets for the game. What gives?
Well, you could say the lottery has been its own worst enemy in this regard. This is the result of the lottery’s own decision not to offer any wagering on any college sporting events.
Punting on the Pac-12 championship game
The Washington Huskies don’t have enough healthy players to play in Friday night’s conference title game. Thus, the Pac-12 selected Oregon as the representative of the North division.
Now, what could arguably be the biggest betting draw of the weekend in Oregon won’t be on the board for bettors at Scoreboard. Before the lottery took the betting app live, it decided it wouldn’t offer any betting markets for college sports.
At the time, lottery officials expressed concerns shared by others around the country. Betting on college sports, the theory went, could present a risk to athletes’ well-being and compromise the integrity of games.
So, you won’t find any markets on the College Football Playoff, Pac-12 men’s basketball, or the NCAA Division-I men’s basketball tournament. That is, unless, the lottery reverses course.
There’s nothing in the state code or constitution that strictly prohibits wagering on college sports. It was simply a decision that the lottery made on its own. In theory, the lottery could change its mind at any time.
However, it seems reluctant to do so unilaterally. The Oregon Lottery would prefer direction from the body that governs the lottery, the state legislature.
Oregon legislators sending mixed signals to the lottery
To date, there’s been no strong consensus out of Salem on this issue either way. While the last legislative session produced a bill that would have made betting on college sports explicitly illegal, it never really went anywhere.
There hasn’t been much activity on the other side either. A spokesperson for the lottery said “there doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that [explicitly authorizing college sports betting] in the legislature.”
Essentially, everyone agrees that the status quo isn’t the best situation. But no one is really taking the duck by the bill to change anything. So bettors in Oregon are left with few legal options for Oregon’s Pac-12 championship date with No. 13 USC.
The BetMGM Sportsbook at Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde does offer retail wagering on college sports. Other than that, the next closest legal option would be a trip to Las Vegas this week.
Fortunately, there are options the legislature and lottery could look to for future events. Several states have worked out compromises on this issue.
How other jurisdictions regulate college sports betting
Among places in the US where legal sportsbooks are currently operating, Oregon is the only jurisdiction to completely disallow college sports wagering wholesale. All others allow it to various degrees.
Several places treat college sports the same as any other for betting purposes. Those are Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Others have some categorical restrictions.
Iowa, for example, bars prop bets on individual athletes’ performances. So you wouldn’t be able to place a bet on how many touchdowns Ducks quarterback Tyler Shough will throw for on Friday.
Others have geographic restrictions. Illinois and Washington, D.C., ban the acceptance of wagers upon events involving college teams within their respective jurisdictions. The nation’s capital takes that a step further by also prohibiting bets on all events that happen within its boundary lines, regardless of which teams are involved.
Yes, it’s about money, but there’s more to the story
Which of these options may be right for Oregon is a matter of opinion. It’s worth noting that of the top five sports betting markets in the country in terms of average monthly handle, three of them don’t restrict wagering on college sports at all.
There’s no doubt that Scoreboard would increase its opportunities to capture bettors’ dollars if it allowed betting on college sports. However, there is another concern.
Because none of the states bordering Oregon have legal online sportsbooks, it’s probable that most bettors from the state will turn to bookies or offshore websites for the Pac-12 championship game. Thus, the lack of action on Friday’s contest could be said to be driving people to place illegal wagers.
That runs contrary to efforts to legalize sports betting. The idea is that a regulated market provides consumer protections along with tax revenue for the state.
Until state officials determine a path forward, that’s going to be the downside of their decision to punt on college sports. Perhaps the situation will be different if the Ducks reach a third consecutive conference title game in 2021.