After years of losing battles in court, New Jersey ultimately won its war.
In a 6-3 vote Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports betting. The long-awaited and landmark decision in Murphy vs. NCAA clears the way for states across the country to introduce sports gambling legislation and regulation.
And taking the first steps along that path will be New Jersey.
What does the NJ sports betting decision mean?
The idea behind the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was simple. A ban on sports betting would eliminate concerns that players, coaches, referees, etc., could be susceptible to bribes and thus could influence results.
In the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, PASPA’s purpose overreached. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the majority opinion, noting that PASPA was unconstitutional and that the “legislative powers granted to Congress are sizable, but they are not unlimited.”
In his 31-page opinion, Alito said that just as “Congress lacks the power to order a state legislature not to enact a law authorizing sports gambling, it may not order a state legislature to refrain from enacting a law licensing sports gambling.”
Basically, SCOTUS held that “the Constitution does not empower Congress” to issue orders to state governments. As a result, the court struck down PASPA, clearing the way for sports betting in New Jersey and other states.
A look back at the NJ sports betting case
The ruling itself is years in the making, costing the state $8.6 million in legal fees. To get a sense for how long the case has been up in the air, you have to go back to 2011.
That year, New Jersey residents overwhelmingly approved a change to the state constitution to allow lawmakers to repeal prohibitions against sports betting. The bill to legalize sports gambling and potentially reverse course on a down-trending economy was introduced by the NJ state senate 13 days later and became law in 2012.
But a few months later, professional sports leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit against New Jersey. In 2013, a district court judge issued a permanent injunction against the New Jersey law. On appeal, a circuit court upheld that decision. In February 2014, New Jersey filed a writ of certiorari with SCOTUS, which denied to hear New Jersey’s appeal.
Not backing down, then-Gov. Chris Christie signed a new law in 2014, which partially repealed state prohibitions of the 2012 law. Again, the NCAA and pro leagues took New Jersey to court. And again, a district court ruled against the state.
The turning point came in October 2016, when New Jersey appealed to SCOTUS. Oral arguments were heard in December 2017. And on Monday, the high court made its decision.
Christie tweeted shortly after the news broke:
A great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions. New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal Gov't had no right to tell them no. The Supreme Court agrees with us today. I am proud to have fought for the rights of the people of NJ.
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) May 14, 2018
What’s next for New Jersey?
With Monday’s NJ sports betting decision, New Jersey — as well as Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — will have the open lane to get in on the sports gambling action. One research firm estimated that 32 states could be offering sports betting within five years.
But New Jersey will likely be the first.
Since the Garden State already legalized sports betting, the next step is to regulate it. A recent bill that is widely supported lays out the guidelines for NJ sports betting and creates a path for New Jersey casinos and racetracks to offer legal sports betting.
Monmouth Park, for example, has been saying for months that is ready to accept wagers within a few weeks of a positive SCOTUS decision. A partnership with bookmaker William Hill created a sports lounge at the track that can easily be converted into a sportsbook.
Casinos in Atlantic City have been chomping at the bit for a decision as well. Borgata Casino has a $7 million plan in place for a sportsbook, and incoming Ocean Resort Casino will follow suit with its own sportsbook. Some casinos, such as Hard Rock Atlantic City, already have software partnerships in place for online sports wagering.
All that being said, there is still plenty to be determined in terms of the regulatory framework, both in New Jersey and across the country. For now, however, May 14 stands as a monumental day in sports betting history.