All Bets Are On: Supreme Court Strikes Down Sports Betting Ban

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“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make.”

That about says it all.

The sentence is the first sentence of the concluding paragraph in the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion in Murphy vs. NCAA. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion for the Court and six of his fellow justices joined him in declaring Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) unconstitutional.

The rest of the paragraph reads:

“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. The judgment of the Third Circuit is reversed.”

More on the Murphy vs. NCAA victory

The 49-page decision posted to the U.S. Supreme Court blog on Monday. It is the culmination of a five-year battle that cost the state of New Jersey upwards of $8 million.

The justices that joined Alito in the majority are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices:

  • Anthony Kennedy
  • Elana Kagan
  • Neil Gorsuch
  • Clarence Thomas

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the majority but also agreed with part of the dissent in a separate opinion.

The majority opinion states PAPSA violates the anti-commandeering rule that says the federal government cannot force states to act against their interests.

Simply put, the U.S. Supreme Court rules it is up to the states to decide how to regulate sports betting.

How long until legalized sports betting is implemented in the U.S.?

Many experts predicted New Jersey would win its case. As a result, the major sports leagues, several states, and online sportsbooks have been busy preparing for this day.

Even so, don’t expect sports wagering outside of Nevada to begin tomorrow. Sports wagering will still require states to regulate the activity.

New Jersey has a 2014 law on the books that removes some of its own prohibitions on sports betting. It is the law that compelled the NCAA and major sports leagues to file suit in the first place.

The law basically allows unregulated wagering to happen at the state’s casinos and tracks. The state will still require legislation to regulate sports betting. The regulatory bill coming out of New Jersey will undoubtedly set the stage for how other states regulate sports betting.

Some New Jersey sites indicate they can be ready to accept wages within a few weeks. It is still unclear if that timeline is realistic.

Other states are also ready to enact sports betting. Expect West Virginia and Mississippi sports betting to begin sooner rather than later. Both states have laws on the books and are ready to move forward now that the U.S. Supreme Court sports betting decision arrived.

Watch for Pennsylvania to enter the legalized sports betting market soon. As part of its 2017 gaming expansion law, sports betting is legal along with online gaming. The expectation is to see a rollout of both later this year.

Other states have sports betting legislation in various stages of the regulatory process. State legislators are likely to pick up the pace and move legislation through the legislature now that U.S. Supreme Court definitively ruled that PAPSA is unconstitutional.

The long and windy road to legalized sports betting

In 2011, 63 percent of New Jersey voters voted to legalize sports betting in the Garden State. In January 2012, The NJ Sports Wagering Act became law.

Later that year, the major sports leagues filed suit declaring the law was in violation of PASPA. Gov. Chris Christie argued that the anti-commandeering rule rendered PASPA unconstitutional.

The leagues prevailed in District Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

New Jersey then passed a law in 2014 that repealed the state’s prohibition on sports betting. The goal of the new law was to allow casinos and horse tracks to accept unregulated sports wagers, removing the state from the equation.

New Jersey again lost its battle in the courts. When finally, in a last-ditch effort, the state appealed once again to the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2016. The U.S. Solicitor General recommended the Supreme Court not hear the case.

In a surprise announcement, the Court agreed to hear the case in the summer of 2017. Oral arguments commenced in December 2017. Experts based their prediction of a New Jersey victory on those oral arguments.

The speculation around the decision and the constant U.S. Supreme Court blog watch finally came to an end with Monday’s decision.

Initial reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court sports betting decision

Donald Remey, the chief legal officer for the NCAA, issued a statement via the NCAA website following Monday’s decision.

“Today the United States Supreme Court issued a clear decision that PASPA is unconstitutional, reversing the lower courts that held otherwise. While we are still reviewing the decision to understand the overall implications to college sports, we will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court.”

Geoff Freeman, President and CEO of The American Gaming Association (AGA) issued the following statement on their website.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner. According to a Washington Post survey, a solid 55 percent of Americans believe it’s time to end the federal ban on sports betting. Today’s ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting.

“Through smart, efficient regulation this new market will protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the games we love, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling, and generate new revenue for states, sporting bodies, broadcasters and many others. The AGA stands ready to work with all stakeholders – states, tribes, sports leagues, and law enforcement – to create a new regulatory environment that capitalizes on this opportunity to engage fans and boost local economies.”

The reactions to the decision range from celebratory to looking ahead to what is next.

What we know is that the new law of the land makes sports betting available across the country, should states choose to pursue it.

What we don’t know is what that means for each state. So what’s next? Well, it is now up to the states to figure it out.

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About

Kim Yuhl is a freelance writer and blogger who writes about poker culture and the online gambling industry. A part-time member of the poker media since 2013, Kim recently sold her marketing business to write full-time while traveling around the world. You can learn more about her work and travels at kimyuhl.com.