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Supreme Result?

Inside the courtroom, optimism flies as justices debate failed ban on sports betting

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on New Jersey’s challenge (Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association) to the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). This law largely bans sports wagering outside Nevada, prevents the industry from providing consumer protections and jeopardizes the integrity of the games being bet on.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the oral arguments in the case, and what I heard was a court that expressed deep interest in the role of the federal government—a role that we believe has created a thriving illegal market that has driven trillions of dollars to offshore websites and corner bookies.

While we cannot predict the votes of the justices, there were some key themes from last month’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing that can be used as a guide as to how the justices may vote. Firstly, the justices seemed focused on the idea of states’ rights and expressed deep interest in the role of the federal government. States and tribal sovereign nations have proven to be effective regulators of gaming, and we believe they should be able to choose whether they want to offer sports betting.

Secondly, the court questioned Congress’ original intent. When PASPA was passed 25 years ago, Congress believed it would stop sports betting throughout the country, but the fact is PASPA has failed to deliver on that promise. Instead, the federal ban has driven a conservatively estimated $150 billion-a-year marketplace with no consumer protections or regulations. Some on the court questioned whether or not PASPA’s authors intended to create a system that would theoretically allow for fully unregulated sports betting.

Finally, while it remains difficult to predict the outcome of the court, momentum seemed to be in New Jersey’s favor, with several justices sympathetic to the Garden State’s arguments.

Along with deeming PASPA unconstitutional, which could happen through the court’s decision, the AGA will continue to push Congress to hold hearings to examine the ban’s failures.

The hearing brings the future of legal and regulated sports betting in the U.S. one step closer to resolution. The court will issue a decision sometime this spring, and the AGA, in partnership with our members, is prepared to act swiftly.

There has never been greater momentum for legalized, regulated sports betting in the United States, and the AGA looks forward to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the coming months. While the Supreme Court deliberates, AGA will continue its two-track strategy through the courts and Congress to ensure that the casino gaming industry is well positioned should the court’s ruling not address all our concerns.

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