Supreme Court decision opens door to state-sanctioned gambling on sports

Supreme Court decision opens door to state-sanctioned gambling on sports

A landmark ruling by the Supreme Court today (May 14) clears the way for all 50 states to legalize betting on college and professional sports.

Ruling in Murphy v. NCAA, the court struck down the 25-year-old federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that prohibited states from legalizing sports betting. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The decision means states can now authorize betting on college and professional sports, horse racing, golf and other sports events both in the U.S. and abroad.

The challenge to PASPA came from New Jersey. The case was originally called Christie v. NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) but was updated to reflect the state’s leadership when Gov. Phil Murphy took office in January 2018.

During oral arguments before the court, Ted Olson, arguing for New Jersey, framed the issue as one of states-right versus federal oversight.

“New Jersey is being told it may not regulate in the way it chooses” by being forced to keep a law on the books that it had attempted to repeal, Olson told the court. Therefore, he said, “the executive branch and the legislative branch of the state of New Jersey have been conscripted.”

Former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement and current deputy solicitor general Jeffrey Wall represented the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and several professional sports leagues before the court, arguing that the federal government wanted to stop the spread of sports gambling through PASPA. In his arguments, Clement described sports gambling “essentially a cancer on interstate commerce.”

Les Bernal, National Director of Stop Predatory Gambling, issued a statement criticizing the ruling.

“This litigation was conceived in greed by powerful gambling interests in partnership with a handful of self-serving politicians to benefit a privileged few. It’s a naked money grab from the wallets of ordinary Americans cloaked as a ‘states’ rights’ case,” Bernal said.

“While the Court’s ruling centered on lofty questions involving states’ rights, the real-world consequences of its decision are severe. The American people lost $117 billion on state-sanctioned gambling in 2016, causing life-changing financial losses for millions of citizens. It directly contributes to the lack of mobility out of poverty that traps so many. This serious national problem will be made far worse if the government is allowed to operate and advertise sports betting.”

In his majority opinion, Alito wrote that “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

The decision could prompt Congress to pass legislation regulating sports betting at the federal level. The sports league have expressed preference for federal rules rather than a patchwork of state regulations.