A constitutional question is currently sitting in the Supreme Court: to what extent can Congress control state legislation? Can they control state legislation when a state lets its residents bet on sports?

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA). PAPSA prohibits state-sanctioned sports betting, except in Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware. PAPSA has a provision that would have allowed New Jersey to have state-sponsored sports wagering if New Jersey had created it within one year of PAPSA’s enactment. Twenty years after the PAPSA, New Jersey enacted the Sports Wagering Act of 2012 authorizing regulated sports wagering at certain New Jersey establishments (race tracks and casinos) and creating a comprehensive regulatory scheme for licensing different casinos and sports events. New Jersey was then sued by a variety of sports leagues. The 2012 Sports Wagering Act was held unconstitutional, so New Jersey passed a revised Sports Wager Act in 2014 without the regulatory scheme for casinos and sports events. The leagues brought suit again, and the Third Circuit affirmed a summary judgment ruling for the plaintiffs and an injunction against the governor. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on December 4th, 2017, and a decision is expected sometime this summer.

New Jersey’s main argument in front of the Court was that the PAPSA is unconstitutional  because it essentially is “commandeering” states by telling them what they can and can’t do. The NCAA counters that the law is constitutional because it does not require states to actively do something, but rather it just bars a state from authorizing sports betting. After oral arguments, many commentators seem to believe that PAPSA will be deemed unconstitutional. Further, the plaintiffs themselves seem to have admitted defeat, as the NBA and MLB have begun lobbying Indiana to give one percent of revenue to the leagues as an integrity fee–if sports gambling is legalized in the state.

Outside of just allowing many states to bet on sports (many states have been preparing their own sports gambling statutes while waiting for the Court’s opinion), this case will have reverberations through other state law issues such as: marijuana, gun control, assisted suicide, and other hot button topics. However, the Supreme Court may be able to avoid some of these issues by just striking down part of PAPSA.  All in all, it is difficult to say what the Supreme Court may do but it is obvious that the ruling will have a large impact on the behavior of other states and the kinds of regulatory schemes they may begin to implement.

–Alyx Eva


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