In a 6-3 ruling issued on May 14, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a federal sports betting ban on the books since 1992.
The case known today as Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was originally filed as Christie v. NCAA in 2012, after then Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie was sued by the NCAA and four professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL). The leagues argued that New Jersey’s repeated attempts to legalize sports betting in the state – both through passage of a voter referendum and legislation that Christie signed into law – violated the terms of PASPA.
Under PASPA, also known as the Bradley Act, a “grandfather” clause made Nevada the only state permitted to offer single game sports wagering – while Delaware, Oregon, and Montana could offer parlay card games through their state lotteries.
New Jersey has led a concerted effort to legalize sports betting within its borders, with 64 percent of voters approving a ballot measure in 2011. The state Legislature passed bills to that effect in 2012 and 2014, with the latter authorizing casinos and racetracks to operate sportsbooks.
The resulting lawsuit produced victories for the leagues in both district court and the Third Circuit, but the Court agreed to hear New Jersey’s final appeal in June of last year. Oral arguments were heard in December, and today the Court’s highly anticipated ruling fully repealed PASPA.
As part of the majority opinion delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court found PASPA to be an unconstitutional limitation on a state’s right to regulate its own civic and social affairs:
“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.
The judgment of the Third Circuit is reversed.”
Christie – who has since been replaced by Governor Phil Murphy – took to Twitter to celebrate the conclusive ruling:
“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 New Jersey.”
The six Justices comprising the majority were Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote an opinion which jointly concurred and dissented.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor fully dissented and ruled in favor of the leagues.
In justifying a full repeal of PASPA, rather than a modification to the existing law, the Court came out strongly against the law’s restrictive nature on states’ rights:
“The PASPA provision at issue here – prohibiting state authorization of sports gambling – violates the anticommandeering rule.
That provision unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do. And this is true under either our interpretation or that advocated by respondents and the United States.
In either event, state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. 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.”
As a result of the ruling, New Jersey plans to begin offering legal sports betting as soon as possible, while other states including New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware have legislation passed or pending.