US Supreme Court Rules State Ban on Sports Betting Is Unconstitutional

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2018

A board displays odds for different bets on the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate Superbook sports book, Thursday, March 15, 2018, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Sports gambling is coming to New Jersey—and likely many more states across the U.S.

As noted by CNN's Ariane de Vogue and Maegan Vazquez, the Supreme Court of the United States voted 6-3 to overturn the ban on sports gambling Monday, ruling in the favor of the state of New Jersey, which had filed a lawsuit attempting to get sports betting legalized. Nevada was the only state with legalized sports gambling before Monday.

Looking to boost a stagnating state economy, then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie attempted to legalize sports gambling in the state in 2012. The NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA banded together to file a lawsuit against Christie and New Jersey, which was successful in multiple lower courts.

"While we are still reviewing the implications to college sports, we will adjust sports wagering and championship policies to align with the direction from the court," NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said in a statement to Jill Martin of CNN.

Major League Baseball also issued a statement to Martin regarding the court ruling:

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court will have profound effects on Major League Baseball. As each state considers whether to allow sports betting, we will continue to seek the proper protections for our sport, in partnership with other professional sports.  Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games. We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal.”

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MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement:

"The Court's decision is monumental, with far-reaching implications for baseball players and the game we love. 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."

The NHL also issued a statement to Martin, noting that the ruling will have no immediate impact on the league:

“The Supreme Court’s decision today paves the way to an entirely different landscape – one in which we have not previously operated. We will review our current practices and policies and decide whether adjustments are needed, and if so, what those adjustments will look like. It’s important to emphasize that the Supreme Court’s decision has no immediate impact on existing League rules relating to sports wagering, and particularly, wagering involving NHL games. So, while changes may be considered in the future, today’s decision does not directly impact the operation of the League or any of our Clubs in the short term.”

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 banned state-sponsored wagers on sports. Nevada and other states with limited forms of sports gambling were grandfathered into the law. The Supreme Court ruled PASPA is unconstitutional.

"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 Supreme Court outlined in its ruling.

The Supreme Court initially declined to take New Jersey's case in 2014. However, the state continued its push and found a more receptive audience—thanks in large part to shifting societal tones on sports gambling. Twenty different states offered their support to New Jersey in the fight.

Sports gambling has also become a less and less "taboo" topic. Once confined to seedy underground networks of bookies and hushed tones, sports gambling is now mainstream. Networks openly discuss point spreads, the advent of the internet has led to successful gambling-focused websites, and "bad beats" are no longer just about buzzer-beaters.

Even the stances of sports leagues are softening. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he is not necessarily in favor of gambling but understands it's a reality of sports culture. He said legalized gambling would help the NBA and other sports leagues potentially avoid scandal.

Silver told David Purdum of ESPN.com:

"One of my concerns is that I will be portrayed as pro sports betting. But I view myself more as pro transparency. And someone who's a realist in the business. The best way for the league to monitor our integrity is for that betting action to move toward legal betting organizations, where it can be tracked. That's the pragmatic approach."

Silver said the NBA's international push, in countries where in many cases sports gambling is legal, helped him change his stance:

"As we began to stage exhibition games in Europe and China and jurisdictions where sports betting was legal, it caused me to focus more on this than I had historically. Then we began getting approached by sports-betting companies outside of the United States, where it's legal, to do business with them. As we became more of a global company, I began to think about what our policy should be here."

After the announcement, Silver issued a statement to Martin on the ruling:

“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court opens the door for states to pass laws legalizing sports betting.  We remain in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it, but we will remain active in ongoing discussions with state legislatures.  Regardless of the particulars of any future sports betting law, the integrity of our game remains our highest priority.”

In the wake of the ruling, the NFL issued a statement, via Martin, calling for legislation from Congress to create a structure for legal betting:

"The NFL’s long-standing and unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of our game remains absolute. Congress has long-recognized the potential harms posed by sports betting to the integrity of sporting contests and the public confidence in these events. Given that history, we intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of our game."

As for what changes, a whole lot of nothing right now. States are free to make their own decisions about sports betting, but there's not suddenly going to be a free-for-all of sportsbooks at the supermarket.

Sportsbooks will likely be legalized in a number of states in the coming years, but there are logistics to work out. Will they work in tandem with sports leagues? What will be legal in each state? There are some states where, in all likelihood, sports gambling will continue being outlawed. The states of Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington have strict betting laws that even prohibit players of daily fantasy sports from participating.

The Supreme Court's ruling simply gives the states freedom of choice.