The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can legalize sports betting.
The 6-3 decision came on a case from New Jersey, and is likely to end Nevada’s position as the only state to allow bettors to legally make wagers on sports.
New Jersey enacted a law to legalize betting on sports at casinos and horse tracks back in 2012, but was taken to court by the NCAA and professional sports leagues, which said the new New Jersey law violated the the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had barred states from authorizing sports gambling. New Jersey argued the federal law unconstitutionally infringed on the state’s right to end its ban.
“I am thrilled to see the Supreme Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Legislature to enact a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that the founding fathers intended to keep the federal government from being able to command the states to do certain things, a principle known as the anticommandeering doctrine.
“And conspicuously absent from the list of powers given to Congress is the power to issue direct orders to the governments of the States,” Alito wrote. “The anticommandeering doctrine simply represents the recognition of this limit on congressional authority.”
Alito cited an earlier Supreme Court opinion that held that “’the Federal Government’ may not ‘command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program,'” as well as another part of the same opinion that said the principle was an important element of liberty: “‘a healthy balance of power between the States and the Federal Government (reduces) the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front.’”
The idea further boosts accountability in the sense that if a state passes a law, people can blame state lawmakers for it if they don’t like it, and the same goes for Congress. But when Washington orders the states to do so, the blame or credit is murky, Alito wrote. And the principle keeps Congress from creating something it can’t afford, and simply shifting the cost to the states by ordering them to carry out the legislation, he said.
Today the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey in striking down the arbitrary federal ban on sports betting.
Today’s ruling will finally allow authorized New Jersey facilities to take the same bets that are legal in other states.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 14, 2018
Supporters of legalizing betting on sports have argued that it will undercut illegal sports operations, while allowing states to get in on the money through taxes. Supporters in some states also argue that it’s an issue of choice – that locals want to be able to bet on sports and there’s no overriding interest in prohibiting it.
Opponents have argued that legalizing sports gambling hurts the poor, who may lose money they can’t afford to lose in an effort to get rich, and that it risks hooking the young on gambling. They also worry about corruption and cheating in sports.
Whether it’s a good policy idea isn’t at issue in the court case though, as Alito noted. He also noted that Congress could outlaw sports gambling at the federal level, rather than prohibiting the states from doing it.
“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” he wrote.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner,” American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement, adding that recent polling shows more than half of Americans supported ending a ban. “Today’s ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting. Through smart, efficient regulation this new market will protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the games we love, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling, and generate new revenue for states, sporting bodies, broadcasters and many others.”
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