Supreme Court Legalizes Sports Betting


The Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law outlawing sports betting in most states, clearing the way for wagering to take place.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act made it illegal for states to “sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law” sports gambling. Nevada was exempt from the law, and three other states – Montana, Delaware and Oregon – were allowed to continue their existing sports lotteries.

In 2011 the state of New Jersey approved sports betting in their legislature to help failing casinos in a down economy. The measure was swiftly challenged by professional sports leagues (the NFL, NBA and MLB among others) along with the NCAA. The main concern for the leagues was the integrity of their sports saying legalized wagering would turn their activities into vehicles for gambling. The leagues won in federal court.

New Jersey then tried to pass a law in 2014 that narrowed the focus of legalized sports betting, allowing it only to take place at racetracks and casinos. The courts ruled against New Jersey again. Then-Governor Chris Christie challenged the verdict, taking it to the Supreme Court, saying that the issue was a state’s right issue and that the 1992 law was unconstitutional under the “anti-commandeering” provision of the 10th Amendment.

Today the Supreme Court agreed.

In the majority opinion of the Court’s 6-3 decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

The verdict was applauded by Christie.

“A great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions. New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal Gov’t had no right to tell them no. The Supreme Court agrees with us today. I am proud to have fought for the rights of the people of NJ,” the now-former governor wrote on Twitter.

The U.S.’ major sports leagues struck a cautious tone but vowed to keep working on issues they see as vital to the protection of the integrity of their sports.

“The NFL’s long-standing and unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of our game remains absolute,” the NFL said in a statement. “Congress has long-recognized the potential harms posed by sports betting to the integrity of sporting contests and the public confidence in these events. Given that history, we intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of our game.”

“Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games,” Major League Baseball said in a statement. “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.”

It is unclear whether Congress will take the issue up to create a national framework or if it will remain largely a states’ issue.

Photo by Baishampayan Ghos via Wikimedia Commons

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