Christie v. NCAA, Legalizing Sports Betting
(1L Executive Delegate)
On December 2nd the Supreme Court first hear the pending case Christie v. NCAA. To provide context to the case, in 1992 Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protect Act (PASPA) to prohibit state-sanctioned sports gambling. There are exceptions to this rule most notably in Nevada. In 2011 the New Jersey Legislature held a statewide referendum asking voters whether sports gambling should be permitted, and a majority of constituents said that it should. Thus, in 2011, New Jersey enacted the Sports Wagering Act, which authorized regulated sports wagering at NJ casinos and racetracks. Furthermore, the act implemented regulatory provisions to ensure that this legalized method of gambling was safe.
The NCAA was joined by the “Big Four” professional sports league to argue that the federal ban on professional sports betting was in fact constitutional. The District Court and Third Circuit Court of Appeals have both ruled that PASPA is constitutional. The Supreme Court has decided to hear the case based on the question of whether the federal government has the ability to control state lawmaking. An interesting caveat to this case is that despite joining the NCAA, several leagues including the NBA want the act actually overturned. However, they just disagree with the method that outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposes. The NBA’s vice president and assistant general counsel stated, “our view has been that if it’s illegal [at the federal level], that’s not the right way to start off legal sports betting in the United States—under a cloud, doing it in violation of federal law. At the same time, we agree with NJ on the ultimate policy outcome: that having legal, regulated sports betting in the United States is the best place to end up. The disagreement is just on how to get there.”
Professional sports leagues are realizing the changing sentiment throughout America regarding legalized sports betting. One of the concerns these leagues have is that athletes, coaches, or officials will engage in fixing games. However, this seems far-fetched as there are already regulated sports betting in Las Vegas. Moreover, illegal and unregulated sports betting are actually more dangerous and could lead to more serious trouble. One can clearly look to the Pete Rose scandal in the MLB and former NBA referee, Tim Donaghy’s, game-fixing scandal in 2007 to lend credence to the fact that unregulated gambling is more problematic. In fact, one of the initial concerns of having professional sports teams located in Vegas was based on players engaging in illegal betting. However, with the addition of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and the Raiders pending move to Las Vegas, it is clear that these professional sports leagues are adapting to the times.
History suggests that New Jersey will win this sports betting case. More than 70% of cases heard in the last five years by the Supreme Court have overturned the lower courts. Nevertheless, one cannot conclude that based on history alone New Jersey will win this case. The case might very well be a 5-4 majority decision. Regardless of the result, it is evident that there is a changing landscape in the field of legalized sports betting.