How the Supreme Court of the United States Ruled on Sports Betting

In Murphy v. NCAA, the Supreme Court ruled on March 19, 2020 that legalized sports wagering was indeed constitutional. The court had previously struck down a federal law that banned sports betting. But in this case, the court accepted the states’ rights argument and decided that it was permissible to regulate sports wagering through the states.

The case was argued before the court in February 2020. Murphy was represented by attorneys from the law firm of Arnholdt, Seigler, LLP, and he was supported by the Legal Aid Society of New York. The respondents were the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Board of Regents of the University of New York.

The case revolved around a New York State law that prohibited state residents from placing wagers on sporting events. But that law was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in October 2019. Therefore, when Murphy went to court, he was arguing that it was legal for him to bet on sports in his home state of New York. However, because Murphy is a fan of the University of Alabama, he tried to evade the New York statute by playing college sports in the state of California. The NCAA and New York State tried to stop Murphy by arguing that California and other states did not have the right to legalize sports betting or regulate it in any way. The NCAA and New York State pointed out that the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 specifically prohibited states from authorizing sports betting.

The Supreme Court justices heard the arguments in Murphy v. NCAA on February 19, 2020. The case was argued by Assistant Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler for the respondents, and it was countered by attorneys for the petitioner, Murphy. At this point, it was unclear what the court would decide. Would it rule that states have the authority to completely regulate sports betting? Or, would it find that PASPA prevents the states from authorizing sports betting but allows them to regulate it?

Regulation and Prohibited Off-Course Activities

The court decided in favor of legalization in a 5-4 vote. In the majority opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court struck down the federal statute as unconstitutional. Additionally, in a 7-2 vote, the court found that New York State had the right to ban sports betting in order to protect the integrity of its games and tournaments. This left open the possibility that the federal government could pass a new law to prevent the states from authorizing sports betting. However, the court cited an 1823 case, Betts v. Brady, involving the now-defunct University of Michigan, as support for its holding. The Brady case prohibited the use of student athletes in the marketing of alcoholic beverages. This clause in the Constitution also provides the ability for states to regulate the “Tobacco Products,” which is primarily used as a verb, rather than as a noun.

Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were the only two justices who dissented from the opinion. In a dissenting opinion filed by Thomas, he argued that because the Federal Government is explicitly forbidden from banning gambling in general under the Constitution, it is also forbidden from banning sports wagering. In response, Roberts and Neil Gorsuch wrote a joint concurring opinion that asserted states’ rights to regulate sports. They cited the 1823 case of M’Clure v. The College, a decision that established the University of Virginia as a tax-exempt institution, as additional support for their argument.

Implications for Sports Betting

The ruling in Murphy v. NCAA has major implications for sports betting. First off, it is now legal to sport bet in all fifty states. This effectively opens the market in the United States to an estimated $150 billion industry. Second, the court has now validated the states’ right to completely regulate sports betting, including licensing and setting odds, as well as to prohibit it altogether. Third, the court has recognized that PASPA is outdated and has thus rendered its section on prohibition largely meaningless. Finally, because PASPA was based on the outdated assumption that states have no right to regulate anything, it fails to provide any real protection for sports organizations that want to ensure the integrity of their competitions and games.