Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Sports Betting Ban


On May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court in Murphy v. NCAA ruled in favor of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy regarding the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA).  The controversial act prohibited state-authorized sports betting in every state except a few with grandfather claims, like Nevada.  The ruling is a victory for the more than 15 states that aligned with New Jersey that want to permit such gambling activity.

PASPA made it unlawful for a state to “sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law” sports wagering.  The law was passed out of concern that sports gambling would transform the nature of sporting events from pure entertainment to a device for gambling.  The NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL backed maintaining PASPA.  States like New Jersey, however, argued that sports gambling would encourage tourism and boost tax revenue.

The opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito declared that PASPA violated the 10th Amendment’s anti-commandeering rule.  This rule bars Congress from ordering states to participate in a federal regulatory scheme and constituted a “direct affront to state sovereignty.”  From the opinion:

“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.  Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution.  PASPA is not.  PASPA ‘regulate[s] state governments’ regulation’ of their citizens. …. The Constitution gives Congress no such power.”

Of note, this ruling does not legalize sports gambling.  Instead, it enables state legislatures to decide whether sports gambling should be illegal, unless Congress enacts a new federal law regulating sports betting.  Plans to introduce legislation to set national standards for sports betting are underway, but congressional support for such legislation remains to be seen.

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