The Supreme Court Will Consider Whether To Legalize Sports Gambling

The court unexpectedly announced that it will consider a New Jersey case that challenges federal anti-gambling laws.

The Supreme Court will consider a case from New Jersey that could legalize sports betting at the state’s racetracks and casinos, potentially setting the stage for a rethinking of sports wagering bans across the country.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and his allies in the state legislature have passed two different laws legalizing sports wagering at the state’s racetracks and casinos since 2012.

The laws directly challenge the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, a 1992 federal law that bans sports wagering in all but four states. 

All four major sports leagues and the NCAA sued New Jersey after it passed the two laws. A lower court struck down the first law, and the Supreme Court declined to review that case. New Jersey passed the second law in 2014, and a lower courts struck it down last year.

New Jersey appealed the second case to the Supreme Court, and in January, the court unexpectedly asked the U.S. solicitor general to weigh in. The solicitor general recommended that the Supreme Court not take up the case, but on Tuesday morning, the court announced that it will review New Jersey’s challenge as soon as this fall. 

If New Jersey’s appeal is successful, it could lead a wave of states to pass laws legalizing sports wagering, or force Congress to reconsider its current federal gambling laws. 

“We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case,” the American Gaming Association, which supports nationwide legal sports betting, said in a statement. “And we are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”

PASPA has faced increasing challenges as states seek to tap into the potential revenue streams that sports wagering offers. Americans illegally wager between $80 billion and $380 billion on sports each year, according to various estimates, though exact figures are unavailable.

Along with New Jersey, at least three other states ― Pennsylvania, Maryland and Michigan ― have considered legislation that would legalize sports betting. Five states joined New Jersey in pushing the Supreme Court to hear this case.

The major sports leagues’ rigid anti-gambling stance has also begun to crack. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called for the nationwide legalization and regulation of sports wagering in 2014, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said this year that his league was reconsidering its opposition to sports betting. 

The NFL, meanwhile, still opposes legal sports wagering. But it has loosened restrictions on in-stadium casino advertising, and its teams have directly partnered with daily fantasy sports companies. Earlier this year, NFL owners allowed the Oakland Raiders to relocate to Las Vegas, a move that New Jersey gambling advocates and industry observers saw as a “symbolic breakthrough” for the push to legalize sports betting.

The NHL has also expanded to Las Vegas, where a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will begin play this fall.

In May, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone (D) introduced legislation in Congress that would repeal PASPA and legalize sports gambling nationwide.  

“The citizens of New Jersey overwhelmingly support legalized sports betting and acted in a referendum to show that support,” Pallone said in a statement. “Both Congress and the Supreme Court should respect these actions. Rather than continuing to allow criminal and offshore entities to reap the benefits of illegal gaming, there is now an opportunity for the Supreme Court to allow the democratic process in New Jersey to appropriately regulate sports gaming.”