WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.
The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.
Anticipating the Supreme Court ruling, advocates of legalized sports betting in Maryland had worked feverishly during the last legislative session to place the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide. But their measure died in the Senate Finance Committee after the House and Senate failed to reach an agreement on whether or not to include specific venues in the bill.
The death of the legislation means that the issue could not appear on the ballot before 2020. Advocates say that will put Maryland behind other states that are positioned to offer sports betting.
One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. 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,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.
The court’s decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state. Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said after arguments in the case in December that if justices sided with the state, bets could be taken “within two weeks” of a decision. On Monday, after the ruling was announced, Christie tweeted that it was a “great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions.”
It’s possible that the first to market with sports betting in New Jersey will be a racetrack at the Jersey shore. Monmouth Park has already set up a sports book operation and has previously estimated it could take bets within two weeks of a favorable Supreme Court ruling.
Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, said his Atlantic City casino will “absolutely” offer sports betting once it can get it up and running. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said.
More than a dozen states had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the law barring states from authorizing sports betting. New Jersey said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.
All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey’s gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.
The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.
New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos, racetracks and former racetracks. In 2012, with voters’ support, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law allowing sports betting, directly challenging the 1992 federal law which says states can’t “authorize by law” sports gambling. The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the state lost in court.
In 2014, New Jersey tried a different tactic by repealing laws prohibiting sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. It argued taking its laws off the books was different from authorizing sports gambling. The state lost again and then took the case to the Supreme Court.