Supreme Court Strikes Down Federal Anti-Sports Betting Law

Baseball arena filled with fans In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled the federal law prohibiting states from legalizing sports betting is unconstitutional and violates the 10th Amendment of the Constitution. This decision comes after a New Jersey law passed in 2014 that rolled back regulations on the state’s casinos and racetracks was brought before the Court. Though New Jersey has passed similar laws, this is the first time a state has successfully challenged the 1992 statute that has kept sports gambling underground and out of the public eye in most of the country.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was passed in 1992 to protect the integrity of athletes, coaches, teams, and sports leagues. Though the law did not outright ban betting on sporting events, it did prohibit a state or city “to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize” any form of gambling or betting that was based on a sporting event.

The law did, however, make a few exclusions to states where gambling on sports was already well established. These exclusions included Nevada, Oregon, and Delaware. The law also allowed the state of New Jersey to establish sports betting in Atlantic City if done within one year after it was passed. New Jersey did not do so until 2012 when the state legislature passed a law allowing the act of betting on sporting events.

Court Finds PASPA Violates Anti-commandeering Doctrine

In the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that the law violates the anti-commandeering doctrine and stated that it “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” The sports leagues insisted that the law supersedes state laws through the legal doctrine of preemption. Justice Alito responded by noting that preemption has two requirements: the first is the power the federal government is exercising must be given by the Constitution. Since, according to Justice Alito, the Constitution “confers upon Congress the power to regulate individuals, not states”, the power in question must be used to regulate private actors and not states.

The opinion continued to explain by saying that “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.” Essentially, unless Congress passes a bill disallowing it, each state is free to legalize or prohibit sports betting.

Implications for Other Hot-Button Issues

While this ruling will undoubtedly have a substantial impact on American sports, it may also have major effects on hot political issues such as immigration law, marijuana laws, and federal gun control. The biggest impact of this case is that the federal government cannot instruct a state as to what laws they can or cannot enact and how they can or cannot enforce those laws.