The Supreme Court has overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), ending a prohibition that had prevented states from passing laws that would allow for regulation of legal sports betting.

PASPA Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling that found PASPA was unconstitutional, allowing states to go ahead with the regulation of sports betting. (Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

In a 6-3 decision in the case of Murphy v. NCAA, the Supreme Court found that multiple provisions of PASPA violated the anticommandeering rule, making those sections unconstitutional. In addition, the court determined that the rest of the law could not be salvaged if those sections were removed, causing the entire statute to be thrown out.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by justices Roberts, Kennedy, Kagan, and Gorsuch, with Justice Clarence Thomas penning a concurring opinion. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and partially by Justice Stephen Breyer.

(You can read the full SCOTUS decision here.)

PASPA Violated State Sovereignty, Court Says

Alito’s opinion makes it clear that the Court’s largest problem was with the fact that PASPA commanded state legislatures to act in ways that seemed patently unconstitutional.

“The PASPA provision at issue here – prohibiting state authorization of sports gambling – violates the anticommandeering rule,” Alito wrote. “It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”

One of the more interesting arguments over PASPA was whether or not a full repeal of a state’s gambling laws would be considered an “authorization” under the federal statute. While the government had claimed it would not – an interpretation that the state of New Jersey attempted to use to their advantage, even if they hadn’t argued for it – SCOTUS roundly disagreed, saying that in context, no other interpretation was possible.

“The interpretation adopted by the Third Circuit and advocated by respondents and the United States not only ignores the situation that Congress faced when it enacted PASPA but also leads to results that Congress is most unlikely to have wanted,” Alito wrote.

The main dissent in the case came down to whether PASPA could survive even if the commandeering sections were struck down. In her opinion, Justice Ginsburg opined that it would have been possible to do just that.

“Deleting the alleged ‘commandeering’ directions would free the statute to accomplish just what Congress legitimately sought to achieve: stopping sports gambling regimes while making it clear that the stoppage is attributable to federal, not state, action,” Ginsburg wrote in her dissent.

When Will Betting Begin?

With PASPA no longer standing as the law of the land, the question now becomes how many states will take advantage of the opportunity to allow sports betting, and how soon they will start taking bets.

New Jersey plans to allow wagers at casinos in Atlantic City and at horse racing tracks, though it isn’t yet clear when that will be able to begin. Given the complete PASPA repeal, some in the state believe that proper regulation may need to be implemented by the legislature, as the state’s last action was simply to repeal the prohibition on sports betting.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have already passed laws that would allow sports betting contingent on the Court’s decision in New Jersey’s case against the NCAA. More than 20 states have at least introduced bills to consider legalizing the practice, and a 2017 report by gaming industry analysts Eilers & Krejcik identified 32 states that seemed to have the political will to regulate sports betting within five years following a favorable Supreme Court decision.