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Momentum Building to Eliminate Sports Betting Ban


July 7, 2017
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What Does The Future Hold For National Sports Betting Ban (PASPA)?

Momentum Building to Eliminate Sports Betting Ban

Photo courtesy of Stocksnap.io

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn’t the only one advocating to lift the national sports betting ban. Momentum is building to eliminate the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Federal Sports Betting Ban

Enacted in 1992, the PASPA specifically prohibits governmental entities, including the states, from authorizing sports wagering. The only current exceptions are the states of Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware. The federal sports betting law also authorizes professional and amateur sports organizations, as well as the United States Attorney General, to file lawsuits to enforce PASPA provisions.

Supporters of the PASPA maintain that the law is needed to protect the integrity of the game and help deter gambling addiction. Former U.S. Senator and NBA star Bill Bradley stated that “[a]thletes are not roulette chips, but sports gambling treats them as such. Fmr. Sen. Bradley also stated that “If the dangers of state sponsored sports betting are not confronted, the character of sports and youngsters’ view of them could be seriously threatened.”

Despite the federal ban, sports wagering is on the rise. In 2016, Americans wagered more than $15 billion on the Super Bowl and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament. A staggering 97 percent of the foregoing bets were placed illegally. Given the billion-dollar black market for sports gambling, legalization is increasingly viewed as a means to stimulate the economy, particularly since legislation seems to only drive it underground. A poll by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 57 percent of independents, 58 percent of Republicans, and 50 percent of Democrats favor lifting the federal sports betting ban.

New Jersey’s PASPA Lawsuit

New Jersey’s lawsuit challenging the PASPA is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 27, 2017, the justices decided to consider New Jersey’s appeal.

In 2012, New Jersey passed a law establishing a regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. The country’s major professional sports leagues and the NCAA filed a lawsuit, which was joined by the Department of Justice. In its defense, the State of New Jersey argued that the federal ban is unconstitutional. It specifically maintained that the power to regulate gambling and benefit from the revenue it generates should rest with the states and not the federal government. New Jersey further argued that the PASPA violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it is not applied equally across all states. The Third Circuit rejected the constitutional challenge and concluded that the State could not regulate sports betting without running afoul of the PASPA. However, the appeals court held that the states retained “much room . . . to make their own policy” and were free to “enforce the laws they choose to maintain.”

Seeking to comply with the Third Circuit’s decision, New Jersey passed a 2014 law that partially repealed State laws prohibiting sports wagering. The sports leagues again filed suit. In response, the State now alleges that it is unconstitutional for the PASPA to dictate the extent to which the states must maintain their prohibitions on sports wagering.

To date, New Jersey has been unsuccessful in convincing a court to agree that the PASPA is unconstitutional. However, the Third Circuit did acknowledge that Gov. Christie is not the only one to raise issues with the PASPA. “PASPA is not without its critics,” the Third Circuit wrote. “It has been criticized for prohibiting an activity, i.e., sports gambling, that its critics view as neither immoral nor dangerous. It has also been criticized for encouraging the spread of illegal sports gambling and for making it easier to fix games, since it precludes the transparency that accompanies legal activities.”

The recently formed American Sports Betting Coalition (ASBC) is actively lobbying to overturn the federal sports betting ban. With a diverse membership that includes the Fraternal Order of Police, National District Attorneys Association, U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Conference of State Legislatures, the legislative solution could prove to be more successful than the judicial one. New Jersey residents, and other states interested in lifting the federal sports betting ban anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision.