Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Sport | By Wendy Sparks

Supreme Court Considers Legality Of Sports Betting

Supreme Court Considers Legality Of Sports Betting

New Jersey's long quest to overturn a federal ban on sports betting won support from some U.S. Supreme Court justices Monday, leaving Gov. Chris Christie and other supporters optimistic about the state's chances.

As a dispute over federalism, legal experts expected Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch states' rights advocate, to side with New Jersey.

The court accepted New Jersey's request to decide whether a federal law that prevents repeal or modification of a state law impermissibly "commandeers" the states' regulatory power.

A majority of justices hinted they saw merit in the New Jersey's argument that the federal ban was unconstitutional because it interfered with the state's ability to pass laws, according to a transcript of the hearing.

If New Jersey earns an expected victory and the federal law is shot down, it would let states across the country allow sports gambling.

The law bars state-authorized sports gambling with exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and DE, states that had approved some form of sports wagering before the law took effect.

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In all American states but Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana, organized gambling on sports is an illegal activity. Major professional sports leagues across the country have been successful in shutting down these efforts through the courts. In passing the law, Congress gave New Jersey a yearlong window to authorize sports betting at its casinos, but the state didn't act. It lost again in court. "We're prepared in New Jersey, and we're ready to go". The government sided with the NCAA.

New Jersey's lawyer, Ted Olsen, the former US solicitor general, argued the ban is unconstitutional and violates a doctrine that prohibits the federal government from forcing states to enact policy.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Stephen G. Breyer seemed skeptical of the federal government's argument. During the opening drive by Ted Olson, lawyer for the Garden State and Clement's former boss from the early Bush years, Breyer restated the weird nature of a federal law that purports to regulate states instead of individuals.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy said having the federal government tell states what to do "blurs political accountability".

And Justice Kennedy remarked at one point in a fashion that seemed to represent the overarching - but far from prevailing - sentiment of the court.

Roberts chimed in, pointing out that if Congress wanted to impose a flat ban on sports gambling, it could have done so itself and included a clause that specifically indicated that conflicting state laws are pre-empted.

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Wall explained that New Jersey could simply do nothing and leave its laws on the books or totally repeal them (full transcript available here).

Americans bet as much as $150 billion a year on sports events, according to the American Gaming Association, but only 3 percent of that amount is wagered through legal and regulated gaming, most of it in Nevada. "While we can't predict the intentions of Supreme Court Justices, we can accurately predict the demise of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection of 1992".

"I don't think that it's the silver bullet, but it should drive the economy to a certain extent", said Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University. The leagues' lawyer, Paul Clement, said the federal measure was a "comprehensive scheme".

Undeterred, New Jersey's lawmakers devised what many saw as a sleight of hand move.

Despite support for legalized sports gambling from the National Basketball Association and the MLB, the lawyers representing the NFL, MLB and National Basketball Association along with other leagues will argue in favor of PASPA during the Supreme Court hearings, possibly hoping to have changes on sports gambling coming from a federal level rather than states coming up with their own regulations and restrictions.

The cases are Christie et al v. NCAA et al 16-476; and New Jersey Throughbred Horesmen's Association v. NCAA et al 16-477.

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"This area has been talking about it for years, so there is going to be no debate if we should have it", said Freeman, "The casinos are already scouting out where the sports books will be located".

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