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SCOTUS: States Free to Allow Sports Betting

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court has opened up sports betting across the country, but the game is far from over.

No sooner than the court ruling came out, opponents were lining up to take the battle to Congress. Meanwhile, politics made strange bedfellows out of fantasy leagues, casinos, tribes and states that are rolling out the red carpet for bettors.

Observers said the decision will revolutionize spectator sports, even as professional and amateur leagues scrambled for position. For lawyers and court-watchers, however, it was an entirely different game.

States' Rights

In Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the justices split 6-3 in striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Congress passed the law ostensibly to protect the integrity of sports, effectively outlawing sports betting nationwide -- except in certain states like Nevada.

It left the states to decide how to enforce it, and it became an issue when New Jersey sued to get around the law. The state finally got its due when the Supreme Court majority said the law violated states' rights to decide for themselves whether to allow sports gambling.

"The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make," Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court. "Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, said that Congress has the power to regulate gambling nationwide. The majority said, however, that Congress exceeded its "dual sovereignty" power by making states enforce the federal law.

End Game

The NCAA, which lost the case, is concerned it could corrupt amateur sports and lead to scandal.

"The last thing the NCAA wants is anything that might lead to another point-shaving scandal like the one it experienced in 1951," Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University professor of economics and law, told the Washington Post. "The college sports business model depends on fans believing that unpaid players are motivated by the purest of competitive motives."

Vowing to take that bet, Sen. Orrin Hatch said he will file federal legislation to roll back the ruling. He warned that the court decision could cause "uneven enforcement and a patchwork race to the regulatory bottom."

While Congress wagers on that battle, legislators in 18 states are already banking on the new law announced by the Supreme Court. They had regulation on tap even before the decision.

For the latest Supreme Court news, subscribe to FindLaw's SCOTUS Newsletter.

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