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The U.S. Supreme Court Tackles Sports Gambling Law

Today (Monday December 4, 2017), the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association involving sports-gambling. I bet many of you have heard about the case and know that it has something to do with a fight between New Jersey and the U.S. government over the legalization/illegalization of sports-gambling. The odds are lower that you know exactly what the legal arguments are and how this impacts gambling in general.

Here is a brief primer on the lawsuit, the law, and the implications. The devil may be in the details, so I've grabbed my pitchfork to dig in to the legal arguments.

First, you'll need to know a few important terms:


  • The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act passed in 1992.
  • It prohibits state-sponsored sports-gambling schemes (i.e., organized markets for sports gambling).
  • It applies to both operations run by states and by individuals.
  • It exempts Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.

New Jersey:

  • The state near New York.
  • Originally exempted from PASPA BUT ONLY IF New Jersey enacted a sports gambling scheme law within one year of PASPA's enactment.
  • New Jersey enacted its Sports Wagering Act in response to PASPA in 2012 and later modified it gambling laws in 2014.
  • Coincidentally, the MTV series The Jersey Shore ran from 2009 through 2012. This was a widely popular show, which Governor Christie spent a lot of time criticizing (to the detriment of getting a gambling law passed???).

Chris Christie:

  • Governor of New Jersey since 2010.
  • He's doubling down on sports betting being legal in New Jersey.

"The Leagues"

  • Started the pot by bringing a lawsuit in New Jersey seeking to declare the NJ law unconstitutional.
  • Trying to parlay lower court victories into win in Supreme Court.

Supremacy Clause

  • The clause in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution that says that federal law trumps state law.


  • A principle set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Stems from the Tenth Amendment.
  • Essentially means Congress can't directly compel the States to pass/not pass state laws.
  • Possible $1,000 Double Jeopardy answer.

The Arguments

The Leagues:

  • The case is a straightforward application of the Supremacy Clause.
  • PASPA does not compel States to act.
  • Anti-commandeering argument is misplaced. PASPA does not compel States to act but simply compels them to refrain from taking certain actions.

New Jersey:

  • PASPA violates anti-commandeering doctrine.
  • PASPA compels States to regulate by prohibiting them from enacting laws on sports gambling. That is, telling States what they can't do is like telling them what they must do.
  • New Jersey went through a significant process to ultimately pass its gambling law and repeal prior law – thus, by nullifying these efforts, PASPA compelled New Jersey to adhere to law that it doesn't want.


The U.S. Supreme Court has a few options:

1. Strike down PASPA

  • This could give all states the ability to legalize sports gambling.
  • It's predicted that as many as 32 states would offer sports betting within five years.

2. Uphold PASPA but hold New Jersey essentially complied with the law.

  • This would allow the New Jersey sports gambling statue to stand.
  • This likely wouldn't help other states.

3. Strike down the New Jersey law

  • PASPA stands.
  • Other states likely out of luck.

4. Going off the board with a long-shot decision.

Tea Leaves

  • It's interesting that the Supreme Court even took the case. It typically takes cases to resolve differences among the federal courts of appeals. But no such dispute here. Only the Third Circuit decided the issue.
  • Conservative and federalist jurists typically favor states' rights and may uphold the N.J. law
  • Strict constructionists may not want to apply "anti-commandeering" doctrine since it's not in the Constitution and may be more inclined to rely upon the Supremacy Clause (which is in the Constitution).
  • Some justices could be swayed by anti-gambling issues, some by individual rights, and some by the economic impact of the decision.

At the least, you can bet on a very interesting ruling.

Topics: Gambling