he U.S. Supreme Court court, in a 6-3 ruling, struck down today a federal law that required states to ban gambling on the outcome of sporting events. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was highly unusual: it did not ban sports gambling nationwide as a matter of federal law, but it said the states were not allowed to permit it.
Nevada was grandfathered in when the law was passed in 1992.
New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie challenged the law, arguing that it violated the Tenth Amendment, which the Supreme Court has said prohibits federal laws that compel states to carry out federal dictates. The gambling law, Christie said, commandeered the states by forcing them to prohibit sports wagering.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the problem with the federal law is that "state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress."
"A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine," he wrote.
New Jersey wants to allow limited forms of sports gambling and to collect the taxes from it. While supporters of the law said it discouraged betting and the resulting corrupting influence of organized crime on athletics, Christie said Americans already spend nearly $150 billion a year on illegal sports wagering.
"I know that we don't know much about organized crime coming from New Jersey. But we know a little bit. And the fact is that organized crime is involved in profiting from this every day," he said.
The American Gaming Association estimated that Americans would wager $10 billion on this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament alone, with just three percent of the bets placed legally through Nevada. "Our current sports betting laws are so out of touch with reality that we're turning tens of millions of Americans into criminals for the simple act of enjoying college basketball," said Geoff Freeman, the gaming association's CEO.
One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.
"The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.
The court's decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state. Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said after arguments in the case in December that if justices sided with the state, bets could be taken "within two weeks" of a decision. On Monday, after the ruling was announced, Christie tweeted that it was a "great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions."
Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, said his Atlantic City casino will "absolutely" offer sports betting once it can get it up and running. "It's been a long time coming," he said.
The NCAA and the major professional sports leagues contended that the law was not unconstitutional, because it didn't compel states to do anything, it simply prevented them from making sports betting legal by either operating sports-gambling schemes themselves or authorizing casinos to do so.
New Jersey officials said they would allow only certain types of sports betting, at casinos and racetracks, with a minimum age of 21 to participate. When the case was argued in January, Christie said the state was prepared to act within two weeks of a Supreme Court ruling in its favor.
The current governor, Phil Murphy, said in late April that the state is ready to act "sooner than later." Nearly half the states are prepared to launch similar efforts if New Jersey won in the Supreme Court.