In a dramatic 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided Monday, May 14 that Congress has no constitutional authority to prevent individual states from authorizing sports betting.

Supreme Court sports betting PASPA

The odds now favor Las Vegas-type sportsbooks coming to casinos across the country after a landmark Supreme Court decision ruled against the federal PASPA ban on May 14. (Image: Ethan Miller/Getty)

The SCOTUS finally handed down its opinion this morning on New Jersey’s challenge of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, the federal law that had made it illegal to bet on sports in all states but Nevada, Montana, Oregon, and Delaware, who were all grandfathered in.

Lawyers for New Jersey had petitioned the Supreme Court to review PASPA’s constitutionality after lower courts repeatedly ruled that the Garden State didn’t possess the power to repeal the federal law’s regulations. In that 6-3 ruling, the majority of justices felt Congress was overstepping its authority in telling 46 states what it could not do, while allowing four others to engage in sports betting.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s opinion. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

“The judgement of the Third Circuit is reversed.”

And with that conclusion, sports betting could be coming to as many as 25 states in the coming years.

Overcoming the Odds

New Jersey voters approved a ballot referendum in 2011 to allow struggling Atlantic City casinos and horse racetracks to operate sportsbooks.

The NCAA, along with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, interjected by suing the state on grounds that PASPA superseded state law. Courts agreed with the sports leagues, which prompted New Jersey lawmakers to amend its law to repeal imposed federal sports betting prohibitions.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia stated that New Jersey could not legalize sports betting, nor simply repeal federal statutes at will. The court’s most recent decision came during an August 2016 “en banc” hearing that came out 9-3 against the state.

New Jersey’s last hope was the Supreme Court. The odds of SCOTUS accepting the case seemed long, but in June 2017, the petition was accepted.

During the December hearing, former US Solicitor General Ted Olson argued New Jersey’s case. He said anti-commandeering interpretations of the Tenth Amendment make PASPA a flawed law.

But SCOTUS rarely rules against lower court decisions based solely on Tenth Amendment grounds. In fact, it has happened just four times since the amendment was passed in 1791. Make that five now.

“The Constitution confers on Congress not plenary legislative power but only certain enumerated powers,” Alito declared. “Therefore, all other legislative power is reserved for the States, as the Tenth Amendment confirms.

“And conspicuously absent from the list of powers given to Congress is the power to issue direct orders to the governments of the states,” the justice continued. “The anticommandeering doctrine simply represents the recognition of this limit on congressional authority.”

Christmas in May

With the federal sports betting ban lifted — and laws already on the books in New Jersey — Atlantic City casinos and horse racetracks could have sportsbooks up and running in a matter of weeks.

Monmouth Park built its sportsbook years ago after the voter referendum, only to see the space remain free of such activity.

“We started this fight back in 2012 and are grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized that we’ve been right all along,” Monmouth owner Dennis Drazin said in a statement. “We can now shift our focus on commencing sports betting, which will be off and running at Monmouth Park as soon as possible.”

Atlantic City casinos are scurrying to build their own sportsbooks. The Borgata was the first to announce such an investment, confirming last November the construction of a $7 million sportsbook.