The United States Supreme Court surprised a lot of people when they agreed to hear New Jersey’s appeal of a lower court ruling that prevented the state from offering legalized sports betting. At the heart of the matter is PAPSA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that prohibited states from offering new forms of sports-related betting activities. If they allowed something when the bill was passed, they could continue to do so. That’s why Nevada is still able to offer a full variety of sports betting.
Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey, that does not mean sports betting will be legal in the United States. What it means is that states will have the right to offer sports betting if they choose to do so. Not all states will. For sports betting to be declared legal in the United States, it would take an act of Congress or federal statute and that isn’t what New Jersey’s lawsuit is all about.
On the merits of their case, New Jersey has a good chance of coming out with a victory. The Constitution was designed to keep the federal government out of the affairs of individual states as much as possible. So when the federal government tells one state you can’t offer sports betting, while letting another state do so, there are going to be problems. Remember, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case even after the Solicitor General’s Office said he didn’t believe they should. Obviously, there are at least several members of the Court who have an interest in the matter.
The leagues and the NCAA will continue to argue irreparable harm and challenges to their integrity if sports betting is allowed, but they are quickly losing ground in that area. With the NHL and NFL moving teams to Las Vegas, the stigma of gambling as harmful to athletics is making less sense.
The leagues and the NCAA aren’t made up of dumb people. They know betting is taking place and will continue into the future regardless of what happens in court. More, such as the NBA’s Adam Silver are in favor of legalized, regulated sports betting. People in the U.S. are going to be able to wager on sports legally sometime in the near future. It is no longer really a question of if, but more a question of when. The Supreme Court may answer that question shortly.