Supreme Court Makes Sports Betting a Possibility Nationwide

By Staff Reports

With AP Dispatches

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling announced Monday appears to clear the way for West Virginia to permit betting on sports events, though it is not certain whether mechanisms to do so at the state’s five casinos are in place yet.

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

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.

West Virginia is among several states with statutes in place to implement sports betting. Here, the state Legislature approved a measure earlier this year. It permits wagering through the Wheeling Island Casino and Resort; Mountaineer Casino-Racetrack-Resort in Chester, Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, Mardi Gras Casino and Resort near Charleston, and The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. After lawmakers approved the statute, Gov. Jim Justice, who owns The Greenbrier, let it become law without his signature.

Though the new law leaves much of how sports betting will be handled up to the state Lottery Commission, one key issue remains unresolved.

It is how, or if, the casinos will work with professional sports leagues on various issues involving wagering. Among them are validating information on which bets are placed and steps to avoid corruption stemming from widespread betting.

Though Justice announced some of the leagues and the casinos had reached an agreement on an “integrity fee” to be paid to the sports organizations in return for coordinated efforts on sports betting, his press release was premature.

“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.

More than a dozen states had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, barring states from authorizing sports betting. New Jersey said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.

All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey’s gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

The 1992 law at issue in the case bars state-authorized sports gambling with exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware, states that had approved some form of sports wagering before the law took effect. Nevada is the only state where a person can wager on the results of a single game, though the law doesn’t cover wagering between friends. The law also doesn’t cover animal races, such as horse racing, which many states already allow.

New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos, racetracks and former racetracks. In 2012, with voters’ support, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law allowing sports betting, directly challenging the 1992 federal law which says states can’t “authorize by law” sports gambling. The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the state lost in court.

In 2014, New Jersey tried a different tactic by repealing laws prohibiting sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. It argued taking its laws off the books was different from authorizing sports gambling. The state lost again and then took the case to the Supreme Court.