Supreme Court Likely to Rule in Favor of New Jersey in Sports Gambling Case
Could the United States be on the verge of legalizing sports gambling nationwide? On Monday, a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices seemed to signal that they are in favor of the idea to make sports gambling legal in all 50 states.
Back in 2014, the state of New Jersey attempted to repeal its own laws banning sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. Governor Chris Christie was challenging the 1992 ruling known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). The law effectively banned gambling on sports in every state other than Nevada.
In light of New Jersey’s attempts to legalize and regulate sports wagering, the NCAA and all four major professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) sued the state and Governor Christie in an attempt to block the repeal. The matter has been tied up in courts for the last few years, but it now sits in the Supreme Court.
While New Jersey is aiming to legalize and subsequently regulate sports gambling, its primary claim is that the federal government should not be able to compel states to take action on its behalf. Attorneys representing New Jersey in the case argued Monday that PASPA violates the “anti-commandeering” doctrine because it is effectively trying to prevent states from changing their own laws. PASPA itself does not ban sports gambling, it actually simply prohibits states from being able to legalize it.
Rather than a moral debate over the ethics of sports gambling, the case has effectively shifted into a debate over how much control and influence the federal government has over the states. At a media briefing on Friday, gambling law expert Daniel Wallach called the case, “perhaps the most important federalism case the Supreme Court has heard in years.”
The states’ rights message seems to have hit home with a few justices. Clarence Thomas, a longtime supporter of states’ rights, is expected to side with New Jersey’s argument in the case. And he isn’t the only one.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “PASPA leaves in place a state law that the state does not want, so the citizens of the State of New Jersey are bound to obey a law that the state doesn’t want but that the federal government compels the state to have. That seems commandeering.” Justice Samuel Alito added, “Congress could have prohibited sports gambling itself.”
Justices Sotomayor and Kagan were reportedly skeptical, but those observing the case believed that most justices sided with New Jersey by the time the hearing ended.
The American Gaming Association, which also supports New Jersey in the case, seems to believe that the vote will go in the favor of the state. AGA president and CEO Geoff Freeman said, “Today is a positive day for the millions of Americans seeking to legally wager on sporting events. While we can’t predict the intentions of Supreme Court Justices, we can accurately predict the demise of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection of 1992.”
While New Jersey appears to have enough support, the Supreme Court is not expected to officially rule on the case until next spring. If PASPA is defeated, several other states are expected to quickly follow New Jersey’s lead and legalize sports gambling for regulation. The AGA says that about $150 billion is currently bet illegally in the United States on an annual basis. States will be eagerly seeking the bump in revenue that would be caused by legalizing gambling.
Gambling isn’t the only thing that could be affected by this ruling. Other states have taken advantage of the anti-commandeering doctrine regarding the legalization of medical and recreational use of marijuana.
Representative Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) introduced legislation on Monday that would pave the way for gambling regulation in his state. Pallone calls the bill The Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement act. The bill would repeal PASPA and give all states the authority to regulate gambling. Pallone said, “I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will decide in New Jersey’s favor, and the GAME Act provides the necessary legal framework for states to move forward.”
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