New Jersey officials won a landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court today that could lead many states to legalize betting on college and professional sports.
The Supreme Court justices ruled 7-2 that the federal law that has effectively prohibited sports betting outside Nevada by forcing states to keep prohibitions on the books is unconstitutional. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Samuel Alito, a Mercer County native, wrote the court’s opinion in the case.
Alito said Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it chooses 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,” Alito said.
Former governor Chris Christie had pushed to legalize sports betting to help the state’s ailing casinos and racetracks, and to raise more government revenue. He challenged the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that was passed by Congress in 1992 to preserve the integrity of the nation’s most popular sports. Lawyers for the state argued that the act ran afoul of the 10th Amendment, which reserves all powers not delegated to the federal government to states.
Today on Twitter, Christie relished his court victory. “It’s a great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions,” Christie said. “New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal government had no right to tell them no.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he is thrilled with the court’s decision.
“The Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago,” Murphy said in a written statement. “New Jersey has long been the lead advocate in fighting this inherently unequal law, and today’s ruling will finally allow for authorized facilities in New Jersey to take the same bets that are legal in other states in our country.”
Murphy also praised Christie and other state officials.
“Today’s victory would not have been possible without the incredible bipartisan effort from so many in our state, particularly former Governor Christie and former State Senator Lesniak,” Murphy said. “I look forward to working with the legislature to enact a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future.”
The National College Athletic Association and other professional sports organizations had successfully blocked New Jersey in lower courts. Sports officials opposing legalizing gambling have cited concerns over the integrity of games and worries about the economic and social impact of sports gambling. The NCAA opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering. Officials say it jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community. Unpaid college athletes are especially vulnerable to large amounts of money flowing through their game, NCAA officials have argued.
“Today the United States Supreme Court issued a clear decision that PASPA is unconstitutional, reversing the lower courts that held otherwise,” said Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief legal officer. “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.”
The Supreme Court’s decision is available online.