Third-year law students Nick Burkhart and Dylan Welch recently found themselves in the national spotlight after a work-in-progress paper on sports gambling found its way into the hands of an ESPN editor. The paper details an ongoing court battle between the state of New Jersey and the major American sports leagues (NBA, NCAA, NHL, NFL and MLB) over the legalization of sports gambling. One of the arguments made by the leagues is the assertion that sports betting is harmful to their brands. In Burkhart and Welch’s paper, however, they determined that to not be the case.
In “The Legalization of Sports Gambling: An Irreparable Harm or the Beginning of Unprecedented Growth?” Burkhart (pictured, left) and Welsh argue the evidence provided by the leagues fails to establish a link between legalized sports gambling and negative fan perception. “The leagues’ arguments thus far has been mere conjecture…to succeed on the merits of this case, the leagues must do more; they must establish a nexus between legalized sports gambling and actual harm,” the paper concludes.
Their in-depth research caught the attention of ESPN The Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chad Millman, who interviewed them for his podcast and, in a posting on his blog Beyond the Bets, praised them for a “masterful takedown.”
However, the legalization of sports betting is months, maybe years, from being resolved. On Feb. 28 a U.S. District Judge ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), the Act preventing states from legalizing sports gambling, to be constitutional. That opinion effectively stops the state of New Jersey from continuing to pursue their efforts, leading Burkhart and Welsh to continue developing the paper in anticipation of a likely appeal.
The two have always had interest in sports, and were pleased to find opportunities to get involved in the area while at the School of Law. As co-presidents of SLU LAW’s Sports and Entertainment Law Association (SELA), which boasts about 60 members, Burkhart and Welsh are working on transforming the group from a traditional model of speaker series and free lunches into a more research-focused organization.
“With shrinking budgets and busy student schedules, it is our opinion that meaningful legal research not only provides an opportunity to hone legal writing skills, but serves as a better networking tool than having a guest speaker once or twice a semester,” Welsh said. “The recent media attention from ESPN attests to this theory.”
There is a natural cross over between sports law and sports business, which explains the interdisciplinary work happening between the School of Law and the John Cook School of Business. Dr. Anastasios Kaburakis, assistant professor of management and sports business at Cook School of Business, has involved SELA members in various research projects and networking events through the years and was an instrumental guiding force for Burkhart and Welsh’s paper. “Without Dr. Kaburakis’ infinite wisdom and guidance this project would never have taken off like it has,” Burkhart said. As the case started gaining attention, it was at his suggestion that the students delved into it to find an area they could develop into an original argument.
Additionally, Burkhart and Welsh received support from Florida State University Professor Dr. Ryan Rodenberg. Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development and Associate Professor Anders Walker at the School of Law has also offered his assistance in helping get the article published once it is finished.
As far as post-graduation plans? For Burkhart, his focus is on practicing corporate and transactional law, but as more firms incorporate sports practice groups into their business models, he hopes to get the opportunity to stay involved with sports law. Welsh, meanwhile, plans to find a position working in the sports and entertainment industry.
Burkhart and Welsh’s paper is available for download on SSRN.