Supreme Court ruling opens door to legal sports betting nationwide

John Locher/Associated Press

Supreme Court ruling opens door to legal sports betting nationwide

Golf

Supreme Court ruling opens door to legal sports betting nationwide

WASHINGTON — New Jersey won a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court that could lead many states to legalize betting on college and professional sports, including the PGA Tour.

The justices ruled 7-2 that a 25-year-old federal law that has effectively prohibited sports betting outside Nevada cannot block states such as New Jersey that want to set up sports books. The ruling could set the stage for other states to expand legalized gambling as a source of government revenue.

The PGA Tour is on record saying it would welcome regulated and legalized sports betting on its competitions if the Supreme Court overturns the federal ban that prohibits such bets in most states.

“You have keep in mind that betting is happening right now, with illegal black markets and offshore betting, and we don’t have any exposure to what is happening,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told USA TODAY Sports in his first public comments on the issue. “If it’s legalized and regulated, you get to a point where you can better ensure the integrity of your competitions. You can provide adequate protection for consumers, which doesn’t exist today. There are commercial opportunities for us, which is one of the things we’re here to do, which is to create and maximize playing and financial opportunities for our players.”

Justice Samuel Alito, a New Jersey native, wrote the court’s opinion in the case. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

It was a victory for the state’s recently departed governor, Chris Christie, who had challenged the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1992 to preserve the integrity of the nation’s most popular sports.

It was a defeat for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the four major professional sports leagues — baseball, football, basketball and hockey — that had successfully blocked New Jersey in lower courts.

The court’s action could jump-start action in Congress to pass legislation calling for federal regulation of sports betting — something the sports leagues would prefer over separate rules from state to state.

Congress passed the 1992 law to preserve what lawmakers at the time felt was the integrity of the games. But New Jersey and its allies argued that it ran afoul of the 10th Amendment, which reserves for the states all powers not delegated to the federal government.

Christie, who left office in January, signed the state’s first law legalizing sports betting in 2012 after voters in 2011 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state Constitution to allow it.

That law was overturned by federal district and appeals courts, but the state tried again in 2014 with a law that stopped short of legalization but repealed the prohibition against running a sports books at tracks and casinos. That also was rejected at the trial and appellate levels, but the Supreme Court agreed last June to hear the case.

During oral argument in December, several conservative justices said the law impermissibly “commandeered” states to keep their bans on the books. But several liberal justices said Congress merely pre-empted state laws, a commonplace action.

What has made the law anachronistic is the advent and rapid growth of Internet gambling. Rather than stopping sports betting, it helped push more of it underground, creating a $150 billion annual industry. That dwarfs the $5 billion bet in Nevada, the lone state with a legal sports book that preceded the federal law.

In the decades since the legislation was passed, opposition among the sports leagues has waned. The National Hockey League has located a team in Las Vegas, and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders are due to follow. National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver has endorsed sports betting, and Major League Baseball has invested in fantasy leagues.

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