In a 6-3 decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal statute prohibiting sports betting, effectively giving states the authority to decide whether or not to allow such gambling.

New Jersey, which brought the challenge to the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, celebrated the ruling. Under the law — which was passed by Congress in 1992 — every state except Nevada was prevented from authorizing live sports betting, though a few states allowed limited off-site lotteries.


The NCAA and the major professional sports leagues had argued in favor of the federal prohibition. But six justices — Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kagan — said the PASPA violated the Constitution by “commandeering” states’ legislative processes. Crucially, Congress’ intent in passing the PASPA was to prevent states from legalizing sports betting, rather than regulating it directly.

That means the law “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do,” declares the majority opinion, written by Alito. “And this is true under either our interpretation or that advocated by respondents and the United States. In either event, state legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress.”


The majority concluded that “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.”

The ruling will be a huge one for states, given that off-the-books betting on sports is estimated to be worth about $150 billion annually in the U.S. Since legalized gambling has been a battleground issue in Arkansas for years, it seems likely we’ll see a push to make the practice legal here (and plenty of pushback as well). More later.


SCOTUSblog has an analysis that notes the ramifications could stretch well beyond sports betting:

The 10th Amendment provides that, if the Constitution does not either give a power to the federal government or take that power away from the states, that power is reserved for the states or the people themselves. The Supreme Court has long interpreted this provision to bar the federal government from “commandeering” the states to enforce federal laws or policies. Today the justices ruled that a federal law that bars states from legalizing sports betting violates the anti-commandeering doctrine. Their decision not only opens the door for states around the country to allow sports betting, but it also could give significantly more power to states generally, on issues ranging from the decriminalization of marijuana to sanctuary cities.