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U.S. Supreme Court Clears Way for State-Regulated Sports Betting

Major League Baseball logoIn a highly anticipated decision, by a decisive 6-3 margin the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for state-regulated sports betting, overturning a federal ban against the wishes of MLB and other sports leagues.

MLB, the NCAA and other professional sports leagues had supported a ban on sports betting. But, after a challenge from the state of New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie, the court decided today to strike down the the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992, which banned sports betting under most circumstances (exempting  Nevada, where sports books are legal). The New Jersey challenge didn’t actually center on sports betting, but argued that it was not legal for the federal government to commandeer states to carry out federal policies. In this case, the federal government did not actually ban sports betting, but essentially ordered states to do so.

MLB, NHL, NBA and the NCAA had urged the court to maintain PASPA and not allow an expansion of state-run sports wagers. Their arguments did not carry much weight in today’s decision, apparently.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not,” wrote Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “PASPA ‘regulates state governments’ regulation’ of their citizens. The Constitution gives Congress no such power.”

Then there’s the financial argument made by National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities and the Council of State Governments, which all came out in favor of legalized sports betting. Why? Easy money. At a time when federal aid to states is decreasing and politicians are looking to balance budgets, a state share of legalized sports betting is found money.

New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are reportedly all on the brink of legalizing sports betting in their states, and several more should follow in the coming year. Now, this doesn’t mean we’ll see sports books on every corner, but we will see state decide on whether to extend sports betting to casinos, horse-racing tracks where parimutuel betting is already allowed and OTB locations.

MLB’s take was short and sweet: “We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal.”

MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark issued the following statement:

“The Court’s decision is monumental, with far-reaching implications for baseball players and the game we love. From complex intellectual property questions to the most basic issues of player safety, the realities of widespread sports betting must be addressed urgently and thoughtfully to avoid putting our sport’s integrity at risk as states proceed with legalization.”

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