The stakes are high, and its anyone’s game in the pending SCOTUS case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (originally Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association). Invoking a little-known federal statute entitled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the Murphy case pits the Bill of Rights’ 10th Amendment against a statute that essentially outlaws sports betting in all but four states. Specifically, PASPA makes it illegal for a state to “authorize a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based…on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate.”
The Murphy case got its start in 2014 when New Jersey – a state under the auspices of PASPA, despite its ubiquitous casino scene – determined that many of its troubled race tracks and gambling spots needed a serious infusion of new revenue. Lawmakers then set out to permit sports betting statewide, and figured that it would be acceptable under PASPA to simply repeal old laws prohibiting sports betting, as opposed to making new laws prescribing gaming for money.
It didn’t take long for professional and collegiate sports organizations to call time out on New Jersey’s plan, and litigation ensued shortly thereafter. The state contends that PASPA violates the 10th Amendment, which, New Jersey argues, prohibits such blanket “commandeering” of states’ rights in governing its citizens and laws. Opponents of New Jersey’s playbook – including the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, NCAA, the lower trial court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit – argue that the facts are squarely within the language of PASPA, and lower-court rulings upholding the prohibition should not be disturbed. Respondents further argue that PASPA is not forcing the state of New Jersey to actually do anything, but that its prohibitions are merely a directive to avoid enacting (or repealing) laws that directly conflict with federal policy.
This case actually marks the second time this exact issue has wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2012, the Third Circuit held that New Jersey’s attempts to implement sports betting were prohibited by PASPA – and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the decision. Now, several years later, the Supreme Court has opted to weigh in on the issue, and oral arguments were heard on December 4, 2017.
Unlike many Supreme Court cases, there is not a great deal of lower-court divide on this issue, nor is the issue one of pressing national social justice. However, the Court has deemed this sports betting dispute one of great importance – particularly given the weighty 10th Amendment implications – and is expected to announce a winner any day now. Meanwhile, more than a dozen other states are preparing to legalize sports betting, wagering on a SCOTUS ruling in favor of New Jersey.