US Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Ban on Sports Betting

New Jersey Sports Bertting Case - Supreme Court Strikes Down PASPA

Chris Christie receives the lion’s share of the credit for a Supreme Court decision which would mean billions in revenues for New Jersey.

New Jersey won a landmark US Supreme Court case which means a federal ban on gambling in 46 states is no more. Gambling analysts believe as many as 18 US states could legalize land-based gambling in the next year, though complicated details like integrity fees and unregulated sportsbooks still have to be determined.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie posted on Twitter his excitement at the news. Christie tweeted, “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 Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 that the 25-year old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is unconstitutional. The majority opinion noted the equal sovereignty principle and the commandeering principle as a key reasons that PASPA is unconstitutional.

Equal sovereignty states that federal and state governments are co-sovereigns, meaning the federal government cannot compel states to expend limited resources to enforce federal laws. Had the US sports leagues which brought the lawsuit against New Jersey, Monmouth Park, and William Hill USA won the case, the federal government could have compelled state governments to enforce the PASPA.

Samuel Alito’s Opinion on PASPA

Justice Samuel Alito, a native of New Jersey, wrote the majority opinion in Murphy v. NCAA. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonio Sotomayor were the dissenting votes. In his majority opinion, Samuel Alite wrote, “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.”

Alito continued with his opinion, based on states rights arguments: “It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Elana Kagan, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Clarence Thomas signed on to Justice Sam Alito’s majority opinion. Justice Stephen Breyer concurred, though he wrote his own opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, while Stephen Breyer joined the dissent in part.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “The court wields an ax to cut down (the law) instead of using a scalpel to trim the statute. It does so apparently in the mistaken assumption that private sports-gambling schemes would become lawful in the wake of its decision.”

Frank Pallone Pushes the GAME Act

US Represenatative Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), a longtime advocate of gambling expansion, wrote his congratulations to his home state on a hardfought legal victory.

Frank Pallone wrote, “Now that the Supreme Court has struck down this unlawful and confusing law, it is time for Congress to move the GAME Act forward to ensure that consumer protections are in place in any state that decides to implement sports betting.”

Rep. Frank Pallone’s GAME Act would add details to the pro-sports betting ruling, much like the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act detailed how the landmark 1986 tribal gaming case, Cabazon v. California, described how tribal casino gaming compacts would work.

Chris Christie’s Legal Victory

The case is a huge victory for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who sustained a 6-year court in the face of significant criticism. Gov. Christie’s detractors said he was expending limited state revenues on a quixotic attempt to circumvent a decades-old federal law.

Those complaints seemed justified every time New Jersey lost a court decision to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA — who brought a pair of lawsuits over the 6-year span. In 2012, the voters of New Jersey voted in a statewide referendum to approve legal, regulated sportsbooks. Almost immediately, the US and Canadian sports leagues brought a lawsuit against New Jersey.

By 2013, US District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton ruled against New Jersey. New Jersey’s Department of Justice appealed the case, but the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Christie again. When New Jersey appealed the case to the US Supreme Court and the SCOTUS declined to hear the case in summer of 2014, Christie’s attempt at legal sports betting appeared to have failed.

Repeal of 2012 Sports Betting Regulations

In October 2014, the New Jersey legislature repealed most provisions of the 2012 sports betting regulatory act. Christie’s lawyers took the gamble that the US federal government could not compel individual US states to enforce federal laws. Instead, Christie instructed his attorney general not to prosecute “legit” operators if they held a gaming license in New Jersey and they opened a land-based sportsbook.

Monmouth Park in Oceanport teamed with William Hill USA to open a sportsbook and start taking bets in October 2014. The NFL, NBA, and allies almost immediately sued the racetrack and bookmaker, along with the State of New Jersey. Their lawyers argued New Jersey’s decision to look the other way on certain bookmakers, but prosecute illegal bookies found guilty of such activity, was a de facto attempt to regulate sports betting.

Once again, Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton and a panel of appellate judges in Philadelphia ruled against New Jersey. An “en banc” ruling of 12 appeals judges later ruled against New Jersey’s appeals, bringing to the case 5 times that New Jersey had lost a sports betting case in US federal court.

New Jersey’s Appeal to US Supreme Court

Undaunted, Chris Christie appealed the case to the US Supreme Court again in the fall of 2017. Many Christie critics howled, saying he was wasting taxpayer dollars in a pigheaded attempt to win an unwinnable case. Because the Supreme Court had declined to hear a similar case 3 years before, most assumed the SCOTUS would not hear the case.

Then it agreed to do so, which is a sign that the case had merit in the nine justices’ eyes. Over 90% of cases heard by the US Supreme Court are either overturned or tweaked in significant ways — the real winnowing out threshold is whether the SCOTUS will hear the case at all.

Veteran DC lawyer Theodore Olsen argued the case for New Jersey on December 4. Since then, the US sports betting establishment has discussed the likelihood that New Jersey would win and how such a win would impact US sports gambling.

Which US States Will Have Legal Sportsbooks?

Details remain to be seen. The case means that New Jersey immediately can launched sportsbooks at Monmouth Park and in Atlantic City casinos. Chris Christie once said, if the court ruled in New Jersey’s favor in Murphy v. NCAA (as it is now called), then New Jersey sportsbooks would open in time for the 2018 NFL football season.

That does not mean other states will be able to launch sportsbooks immediately. Delaware, Montana, and Oregon — which have sports lotteries already — are better-placed to launch full sportsbooks in the near-future. Nevada, of course, has legal sportsbooks, though it will view the Supreme Court decision on PASPA as a loss, because it loses its sports betting monopoly in the United States.

In all, 18 US states have introduced pro-sports betting legislation. Whether all those states will pass sports betting bills is another matter. Those states would have to allow unregulated sports betting, which many would be hesitant to do. If they tried to enforce regulations (or maybe collect taxes), they would be in violation of the PASPA.