In the hours before December 4, gambling reporter David Payne Purdum of ESPN Chalk pegged the odds of New Jersey winning its challenge to the federal sports betting ban at (-115) in favor of the state.
But immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court concluded hearing oral arguments in the case of Christie v. NCAA et al., Purdum adjusted his personal line to (-200), signaling that New Jersey’s legal advocates acquitted themselves well.
His view of the proceedings is shared by most legal observers who witnessed the arguments firsthand. The headline story from NBC News proclaimed the Court as “likely to rule states can allow sports betting,” while ABC News observed that the “high court hints it could side with state.”
Daniel Wallach, a nationally cited lawyer specializing in gaming and sports law, took to Twitter to provide a rundown of the “score” among the nine Justices:
“Five conservative justices + (Stephen) Breyer = sports betting for New Jersey (and other states).
That’s the early read from today’s oral argument at #SCOTUS.”
All in all, December 4 could be remembered as the first step towards federal legalization of the sports betting industry.
The case officially known as Governor Christopher J. Christie, et al., v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al began in 2011, when New Jersey voters considered a public referendum known as the New Jersey Sports Betting Amendment. After voters supported the ballot measure – which would regulate brick and mortar sportsbooks in the style of Las Vegas’ existing industry – by a 63% margin, the state legislature quickly moved to pass the Sports Wagering Act of 2012.
Governor Chris Christie then signed the bill into law, triggering the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), along with the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Hockey League (NHL), to collectively file suit.
The leagues argued that New Jersey’s attempt to authorize statewide sports betting violated a federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. Under the PASPA, only four states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana) are permitted to operate or authorize sports betting industries.
The lower courts sided with the leagues, and after New Jersey altered its laws to remove state licensing procedures through the Sports Betting Act of 2014, subsequent appeals to the new law sent NCAA v. Christie et al to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.
Ted Olson, a lawyer based in Washington D.C. who represented New Jersey during oral arguments, based his appeal on the longstanding notion of states’ rights:
“What Congress can do is enact a statute that places restrictions on sports betting and — and have a finely reticulated statute. It can adopt the provision that it permitted Nevada to have, which is careful regulation of something that’s taking place.
Congress may regulate interstate commerce directly, but it may not regulate states’ regulation of interstate commerce.”
In his back and forth with Paul Clement, a former U.S. Solicitor General arguing on behalf of the leagues, Justice Anthony Kennedy appeared to affirm Olson’s claims that the PASPA “commandeered” New Jersey’s right to self-regulation:
“This blurs political accountability. The citizen doesn’t know, is this coming from the federal government? Is this coming from the state government?
That’s precisely what federalism is designed to prevent.
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.”
As the arguments went on, and Justices Kennedy and Breyer appeared to side with the conservative bloc of the Court, the likelihood of a ruling in New Jersey’s favor became clear to observers like Christie watching from the gallery.
Afterward, Christie spoke to reporters from the steps of the Supreme Court building to offer his appraisal of New Jersey’s chances:
“I thought the hearing went great.
This is the fear of every governor, that we’ll be at the mercy of the federal government and that they’ll make us pay for it.
It’s not right and I believe here that it’s very clear that the federal government overstepped its bounds.”
The Court isn’t expected to render a final decision until June of 2018, but Christie has already vowed that New Jersey’s casino industry could begin operating sportsbooks “within weeks” of a victory.