Supreme Court ruling opens door for legalized sports gambling nationwide

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) unconstitutional Monday, opening the door for legalized sports gambling across the nation.

The case rose through the court system when New Jersey and former Governor Chris Christie appealed a 2012 decision upholding PASPA in district court after the NCAA and all four major sports leagues filed suit following legislation to lift the Garden State’s ban on sports gambling. The Supreme Court ruled by overwhelming majority on Monday that PASPA violated the Tenth Amendment, which restricts the federal government from imposing legislation that outlaws states from enacting laws individually.

“A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

Not only does Monday’s ruling allow New Jersey to collect taxes on legalized sports gambling, but other states can do so without impunity now, too, and online sports gambling websites are sure to seize on this opportunity. The practice was previously grandfathered in for Nevada under PASPA.

Las Vegas no longer has a monopoly on sports gambling. (Getty Images)
Las Vegas no longer has a monopoly on sports gambling. (Getty Images)

The case against legalized sports gambling

There are two strong arguments against this legislation — the addictive nature of sports gambling, especially among young fans, and the rampant corruption that threatens the integrity of athletics.

Neither impacts the constitutionality of PASPA. So, even as the Supreme Court abolished the law, its justices warned Congress of its important role moving forward in terms of regulating the practice.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Alito wrote in a 31-page brief on the court’s opinion. “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.”

The case for legalized sports gambling

It’s happening anyway. Get it out into the open.

This was the stance originally put forth by Christie, who argued to NBC News, “I know that we don’t know much about organized crime coming from New Jersey. But we know a little bit. And the fact is that organized crime is involved in profiting from this every day.” Legalizing it allows for regulation.

Estimates for the amount of money wagered on sports illegally in the U.S. annually ranges from the tens of billions to hundreds of billions, and a recent study by the Eilers & Krejcik Gaming research firm suggested the legalization of sports gambling could generate as much as $6 billion in annual revenue. Because the industry can now be taxed by the states legislating it, the financial windfall is untold.

Connecticut passed a bill last year to regulate sports gambling once PASPA was repealed. California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma are expected to follow the lead of Connecticut and New Jersey. Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia are reportedly among other states expected to pass similar legislation in the future.

Where the four major sports stand

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been the most outspoken among the four major sports’ most influential voices, writing a 2014 New York Times op-ed piece titled, “Legalize and Regulate Sports Gambling.” This was a sea change from his predecessor, David Stern, who helped lead the charge against legalized sports gambling when PASPA was enacted in 1992. Stern has also reversed course.

Silver sought for sports betting to be “brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated,” recommending Congress enact the following regulations moving forward: “mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming.”

The NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball also supported PASPA a quarter-century ago, and all have since wobbled. While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has remained silent on the issue, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman flip-flopped on the matter when his league became the first to move a franchise to Las Vegas, and MLB commish Rob Manfred has softened toward Silver’s line of thinking.

More recently, Silver has lobbied for 1 percent of all wagers on the NBA, in order to insulate the league against threats to its integrity — and also to make a massive profit. This is part of the reason the NBA has opposed legislation in New Jersey and West Virginia that falls short of its regulatory expectations.

Where the NCAA stands

Meanwhile, the popularity of college sports benefits immensely from gambling, and an estimated $10 billion is bet illegally on March Madness annually. Still, the NCAA, which sued New Jersey in an effort to uphold PASPA and was a defendant in the appeal, “opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community,” according to its website.

But even the NCAA now has to relent in the face of PASPA’s repeal.

“Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued a clear decision that PASPA is unconstitutional, reversing the lower courts that held otherwise,” NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “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.”

How do the athletes feel about all this?

Players’ unions are also wary of regulatory shortcomings.

“The Court’s decision is monumental, with far-reaching implications for baseball players and the game we love,” Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark said in a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. From complex intellectual property questions to the most basic issues of player safety, the realities of widespread sports betting must be addressed urgently and thoughtfully to avoid putting our sport’s integrity at risk as states proceed with legalization.”

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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