by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
Every sports fan experiences the high (and low) that accompanies sports gambling. Until recently, sports betting was highly prohibited in most every state. Although sports gambling was illegal, this did not prohibit under the table betting. After a recent Supreme Court decision, sports gambling is now legal for college and professional sports.
If a state wants to now allow betting, many states will have to change their state constitutions so change will not be immediate in most states. Currently, the Alabama Constitution prohibits all forms of sports gambling. Prior to legalizing sports gambling in Alabama, the Constitution would have to be amended. However, the legislature will not meet again until early 2019. Based on this, it will likely be awhile until this Supreme Court decision impacts legal betting in Alabama, if at all.
Many are concerned that legalized sports betting will cause pockets to empty quicker along with ruining the integrity of college sports. However, what many have failed to think about is the possible legal implications to consider that could arise with sports gambling.
For example, can sports betting force a claim for workers’ compensation benefits? For instance, let’s say you are a low level employee of a large corporation and all your fellow employees are wanting to bet on a big game. Your boss sends you to go place the bets for all the employees and prior to placing the bets, you are involved in an auto accident. Can you make a claim to recover workers’ compensation benefits for your injuries? Was this accident considered to take place in the line and scope of your employment? Arguably, yes. But, let’s analyze this situation. You were authorized by your boss to go place the bets. You collected money from everyone in the office to place their bets. This trip was during your routine job hours. But, is this considered a “job” errand? This will be a close call and likely depend on the nature of your work and whether this can be said to be in the line and scope of employment.
Another similar situation could occur if you are working for a sports betting company. If, under instructions from your boss, you go collect money and get in an accident. Can you claim benefits through worker’s compensation? Unlike the other scenario, this situation seems more straight forward. Here, you work for a sports betting company whose sole purpose is to collect betting money. Based on the nature of your work and sole purpose of your company, this accident would likely be said to be in the line and scope of employment, to further a worker’s compensation claim.
On the other hand, would engaging in physical activity or physical force, in order to collect money, be considered an intentional act, which could prevent benefits? Under traditional workers’ compensation language, you cannot be hired to hurt people. So, could you still recover benefits if you were involved in a fight while collecting money? This would strongly depend on whether the specific act could be seen as an intentional act or an act within the line and scope of employment. As with all workers’ compensation claims, you must be acting within the course and scope of employment to receive benefits. If your sole job function is to collect money, could an employee reasonably be expected to get in a fight when collecting money? Sports betting has always been tied to the mob and violence. Would this historic trend place violence within the line and scope of employment for betting companies? Based on the past, there is a strong argument that violence and physical confrontation is involved in sports betting. When looking at tradition, there is arguably a strong argument for collection companies to argue that engaging in physical force is considered to be within the scope of their employment.
All of these situations will depend on how quickly the individual states legalize sports gambling and further issues arise. Attorneys will anxiously sit back and watch the potential legal claims that will develop as sports gambling further becomes common in all 50 states.
Bernard D. Nomberg has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Lawyer by B-Metro Magazine. Bernard is the Chair of the Alabama State Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section.