What The Supreme Court Decision On PASPA Means For Sports Betting In New Jersey
A day long awaited and hoped for even longer has finally come: sports betting is now legal in the Garden State and maybe will be in the rest of the country sooner rather than later.
The US Supreme Court on the morning of May 14 ruled in favor of New Jersey’s case against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), striking down the widely unpopular and largely toothless anti-sports betting law after more than a quarter century on the books. In a majority opinion (which clocked in at a whopping 49 pages) read by the conservative SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito, the highest court in the land concluded that PASPA’s federal ban on sports betting in all states except for Nevada, Delware, Oregon and Montana – and really in any meaningful form at all anywhere except Nevada – ran counter to the US Constitution.
Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Elana Kagan, Neil Gorshuch and Clarence Thomas all joined the decision, giving the proceedings a clear 6-3 majority. Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the majority opinion, but issued a separate opinion of his own. Dissenting justices amounted to only the two most typically liberal judges on the Supreme Court, those being Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg in apparent break with typical ideological grounding on this sometimes contentious issue.
This is pretty much exactly what New Jersey’s congressional delegation had hoped to achieve by fighting hard to secure its constitutional provisions for authorizing, legalizing and regulating sports betting as far as the concept of rights reserved to the states is concerned.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” Alito’s reading of the majority opinion to strike down PASPA said. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if [Congress] elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. [The Supreme Court’s] job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
According to the Supreme Court’s decision, the federal government already ceded the authority to make decisions regarding various forms of gambling activities to the states all the way back in the 10th Amendment, the final one in the Bill of Rights. Just as many constitutional scholars – and, indeed, most of those who closely follow the world of sports betting – have been saying for years, the Constitution does not give Congress, and by extension the federal government itself, anywhere near the kind of power that PASPA has been nominally exercising since the early ‘90s.
It should be pointed out that the passage of PASPA was just on the cusp of the internet becoming the primary vehicle for sports betting (and other methods of wagering as well, from poker to casino games). That means that within only a few short years, legal offshore sports betting websites based in foreign countries – in which PASPA or even local state level anti-gambling laws had no clout in the first place basically nullified any real power the law might have to stop people from placing wagers on sports if they wanted to do so. Still, it is certainly not a bad thing by any means that the Supreme Court is now officially seeing on an even plane with practically everyone in the country, from the average sports fan looking to get in on the action to lawmakers in nearly two dozen states and counting.
With all that being said, what exactly does the Supreme Court’s decision to kill PASPA mean for New Jersey, the state that first took the fight to the controversial law? First of all, it should be understood that New Jersey is without a doubt the state that stands to gain the most from PASPA no longer being the law of the land, as the Garden State is home to what is unquestionably the second most highly developed gambling industry in the country. That is particularly true with regard to casinos, but New Jersey’s gaming presence dominates on the entire East Coast and arguably anywhere in the country that is not the Las Vegas Strip, so the PASPA decision is, frankly, going to be a huge win for NJ generally and Atlantic City especially.
New Jersey State Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), one of the Garden State’s most ardent supporters of sports betting legalization both in his home state and at the federal level had high praise for the decision handed down by the SCOTUS Justices. Wasting no time – or else indicating just how certain NJ legislators were that PASPA would be struck down eventually - Pallone issued a statement to that effect shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy vs. NCAA (as the case was called) was released to the public. In the statement, Pallone called the decision a “win for New Jersey and the rest of the country.”
“PASPA was clearly unconstitutional, and the ban on sports betting has now rightfully been rejected by the [Supreme Court],” Pallone wrote. I have long believed that New Jersey should have the opportunity to proceed with sports betting. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down this unlawful and confusing law, it is time for Congress to move the GAME Act forward to ensure that consumer protections are in place in any state that decides to implement sports betting.”
Indeed, from here out, New Jersey will be able to fully integrate sports betting offerings into the scheme of wagering options at its casinos and racetracks, and the Garden State could even have some newly minted sportsbooks up and running within a matter of weeks. Additionally, New Jersey’s plans to roll out legislation aimed at regulating and taxing sports betting no longer has any impediments now that PASPA is all but dead and buried. The Garden State really needs to move quickly in this regard, as its 2014 law to allow sports betting amounted to little more than a “partial repeal” of the prohibition on sports betting, but there was no language in place detailed how – or if – there would be any state level regulation on sports betting activities.
Ultimately, it will be up to New Jersey’s legislators to decide what court legal sports betting will take in their state, but with the stakes this high it is awfully hard to imagine that they would let this chance slip past them. Still, it is equally hard to forget how the state’s lawmakers dropped the ball in a huge way by not passing laws to this effect in the year before PASPA took effect. Still, this could be seen as a bit of silver lining: perhaps if things had gone down differently for the legal situation of sports betting in the Garden State back in ’92, then there would not have been as much impetus for anyone to push for PASPA to be stricken from the legal rolls at the federal level.
At any rate, the Supreme Court’s decision to declare PASPA unconstitutional is a huge step forward – or at the very least offers a tremendous opportunity for New Jersey to cash in on a more broadly legal sports betting industry. Just as before, other states around the country will be watching – though not necessarily waiting – to see what New Jersey can achieve given this newfound freedom. We will keep you posted with all the latest developments for sports betting in New Jersey, but the major takeaway is this: if you want to place bets on your favorite teams, you will not in all likelihood be waiting long before you can do so if you live in the Garden State.
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