On June 26, 2018, the US Supreme Court struck down part of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), thus allowing states to legalize sports betting. Although the ruling applies only to states that had previously banned all forms of sports betting, the impact will be felt worldwide.
The case, Murphy v. NCAA, originated in an action filed by New Jersey against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 2014. The NCAA had previously prevented its member schools from engaging in sports betting activities, and Murphy sought to overturn this restriction.
It was an easy win for Murphy in the lower courts. The Third Circuit ruled in favor of New Jersey, and the case was then appealed to the Supreme Court. The court heard arguments on April 23, 2018. The case was primarily concerned with the constitutionality of PASPA and the restrictions on states’ rights that the law imposed.
Who Voted for Legal Sports Betting?
The Supreme Court’s decision was a landmark case that received broad press coverage and sparked a lot of debate. There were two dissents: one by Justice Kennedy and another by Justice Gorsuch.
The majority opinion was authored by Justice Kennedy. He wrote, “I agree with the court that the Constitution allows the federal government to bar sports gambling, as New Jersey has done. But I would go further and hold that PASPA exceeds Congress’s authority under the Constitution.”
In his opinion, Justice Kennedy discussed at length the problems that legalization of sports betting posed. He wrote, “It is now well established that States possess sovereign authority to regulate sports wagering within their borders.”
Acknowledging that the majority of people support legalized sports betting, he nevertheless warned that the practice poses several threats to society:
- Increased gambling may lead to more addiction. Addiction to gambling is a significant problem, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
- Bookmakers create an opportunity for corruption and fraud. These are significant problems that have plagued the industry for decades. The court’s decision does not address these issues head-on, but they are themes that are sure to be prevalent in the coming debates over legal sports betting.
- Sports betting is a source of revenue for organized crime. This is an obvious fact that was acknowledged by the NCAA in an amicus brief. Legalization of sports betting has the potential to lead to greater opportunities for criminal activities. These include bribery, match fixing, and drug trafficking.
While most people would agree that these are genuine and significant concerns, it’s important to consider the source of these concerns. The majority of those who appear before the court are not from the US but are foreign entities. It’s not as if these are problems that only affect Americans.
Why Did Justices Gorsuch and Kennedy Vote the Way They Did?
The answer is that both Justices Gorsuch and Kennedy are appointees of President Trump, who campaigned on a platform of supporting legal sports betting.
Gorsuch, in his dissent, said, “I would hold that PASPA is lawful and constitutional, and I respectfully dissent.”
Kennedy, in his opinion, said, “I agree with the court that the Constitution allows the federal government to bar sports gambling, as New Jersey has done. But I would go further and hold that PASPA exceeds Congress’s authority under the Constitution.”
Gorsuch’s dissent and Kennedy’s majority opinion each represent a viewpoint that can only be described as staunchly anti-gambling. These are not exactly the opinions you would expect to hear from members of the Supreme Court, especially since many of the court’s decisions are in favor of the gambling industry. The fact that these two justices dissented so emphatically suggests that they have a lot of sympathy for the position of legal sports bettors.
What Does This Mean for Sports Betting Legalization Worldwide?
This is certainly a big win for Murphy and other legal sports betting schemes around the world. PASPA was effectively rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s decision, and the practice of betting on sporting events will become legal in all 50 states.
What this means in practical terms is that US-based businesses will have a significant advantage in the global market. American companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel will be able to fully exploit the lucrative American sports betting market. This in turn will likely lead to increased competition and more innovation in this area. It’s important to note that other countries have already begun to copy the US model and allow for legal sports betting.
While it’s an undeniable fact that the ruling will have a significant impact, it’s also important to keep in mind the source of this impact. The Supreme Court is an American institution, and the justices on this court will continue to be deferential to the will of the American people as expressed by the President through his appointments. America is a country where sports betting is still largely outlawed, but there is no reason to believe that the tide is not turning in that direction. Legalization has the potential to bring with it significant benefits for the country as a whole, but it will certainly not be a quick or painless process. There will be a lot of debate over the next few years.