More often than not, it takes years (if not decades) for the significance of a Supreme Court decision to come to light. This was not the case when the Court handed down its decision in Murphy v. NCAA this past May.  Immediately following the declaring of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) as unconstitutional, every major sports news outlet was reporting what the decision meant for the future of sports betting around the country. Yet, much uncertainty still remains as to how Murphy will ultimately affect an industry that some predict could produce more state revenue than marijuana sales.

Perhaps the most common misconception about the Court’s decision in Murphy is that the case outlawed bans on sports gambling. In fact, Murphy constitutes a big win for states’ rights in that it held PASPA violates the anti-commandeering doctrine and thus is unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito opined that Congress was free to regulate the sports gambling industry directly, but states were free to act on their own until that occurred. Since the Court handed down its decision, four states have taken the initiative to legalize sports gambling within their borders.

Delaware Governor John Carney placed the first legal wager post-Murphy in June, placing $10 on the Philadelphia Phillies. New Jersey, the petitioner in the case itself, quickly followed suit with the important caveat that limits gambling on sports teams within the state. Mississippi and West Virginia have since entered the fray. Twenty states have bills working their way through legislatures and another twenty-five have no current legislation introduced.

It appears as though this patchwork of state laws will govern sports gambling for the foreseeable future, with no congressional solution on the horizon. Committee hearings regarding potential federal legislation have fallen apart in the months since Murphy, leaving many to hypothesize what it would take for Congress to take Justice Alito’s instructions to heart. The leading theory is gloomy – predicting a point-shaving scandal that would all but require federal intervention – and it’s not difficult to imagine an unpaid collegiate athlete being attracted to a lucrative deal to fix a game.

In the meantime, the effects of the Murphy decision are already being felt. With the NFL season beginning last week, estimates have placed a $2.3 billion tagline on what sports betting could mean to the league annually if sports gambling reaches full, nationwide maturity. Several sports leagues have already begun lobbying for a cut of revenues from casinos. Sports gambling has the potential to jumpstart state economies in places like New Jersey, where the $60 million in sports bets through the end of July have sparked renewed interest in the casino industry. The legalization of sports betting has also remarkably displayed a strong showing of bipartisanship, with lawmakers on both sides at all levels of government working harmoniously to ensure regulatory success and safety. Beyond sports gambling itself, the Supreme Court’s decision could prove to be important and instructive in the fight to legalize marijuana.

Although much uncertainty remains, the legalization of sports gambling clearly has already had a dramatic impact on our country. As more and more states enact regulatory schemes permitting sports betting, its significance will only continue to grow. The pros and cons of such a monumental decision remain to be seen, but nonetheless, a long-dormant legal issue has clearly awoken from its off-season.

Cole Browndorf

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