Sports Betting: How Big Is America's Worst Kept Money Secret?

In a place like the U.K., betting on sports is such a social norm that the bookmakers appear on television sets daily, advertising their deals to entice gamblers to hop on board. In Las Vegas, bookmakers openly display the latest point spreads for practically every sporting event, giving us the over/unders and odds that fuel a lot of our discussions all around the country about "next week's big game."

Look anywhere else in America, though, and you'll notice that people who are feeling lucky have no honest way to actually put their money where their mouths are because no other state has legalized betting on sporting events. The lack of legality, however, hasn't stopped the most eager of fans from trying to yield a profit on any given Sunday.

NBC estimates that an eye-popping $5oo billion is wagered on sports every year with only one percent of it being legal.

“Every town in this state has people betting on football, baseball, basketball, hockey, on all the major sports, except now it’s being done by criminals,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is quoted as saying by NBC. “What we’d like to do is to bring it out in the open and have the citizens of the state benefit from it.”

Montana, Oregon, Delaware and Nevada are the only states in the U.S. that allow some form of sports wagering. Coincidentally, all four of those states combined only support one team, the Portland Trailblazers, in the four major professional sports leagues in America, but Oregon chose to end sports betting in 2007.

Now, after putting together a betting referendum last year, the Garden State made another formal step towards trying to join the legally gambling bunch. In the last month, New Jersey decided to appeal a February court decision that ruled in favor of not reforming the federal laws that prohibit sports betting in a majority of the country's states.

The NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL and NCAA don't want any part of the action, however. The leagues have made it abundantly clear that they don't want to jeopardize the integrity of the game, as they believe legalized sports betting would heighten the temptation for match-fixing.

"They're our games, after all," Paul Clement, who represents the NFL and other leagues, told Sports Illustrated, "and we have a legitimate interest in controlling whether these games are going to be sporting events and not gambling events."

And while the New Jersey implied that part of its motivation to legalize betting comes from a desire to protect potential criminals, this logic is a bit disingenuous. After all, the same mindset could be taken to address other crimes that citizens think are needlessly policed at a high cost to each state, such as drug use.

But the Garden State doesn't need to take a moral high ground for the benefits of legalized sports betting to become clear.

After all, gambling on teams competing at the highest level in the business has the power to draw $8 billion of out fans' pockets for just the Super Bowl alone. We're talking about the industry that has gamblers shelling out $2.5 billion for three weeks of March Madness. The MLB has been found to attract gamblers who collectively have wagered $30-40 billion on baseball games yearly, while even fantasy football is estimated to be a $1.18 business.

All of these figures come from credible sources -- Mint.com, the FBI, CNBC, and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, respectively. Together, the information serves as validation for New Jersey's desire to have a piece of the incredibly profitable pie, so it really is no wonder Sports Illustrated says Governor Christie is willing to take this battle all the way up to the Supreme Court.