Supreme Court Allows States to Legalize Sports Betting

The United States Supreme Court today struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the federal law that barred states from legalizing sports betting. In a 7-2 decision, the high court sided with New Jersey in the case, Murphy v. NCAA, and reversed a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

PASPA, enacted in 1992, forbids state-authorized sports betting in all but four states that met a 1991 deadline to legalize it: Delaware, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon. Nevada is the only state to allow single-game wagering.

New Jersey challenged the PASPA before the Supreme Court, arguing the law is a violation of the 10th Amendment, calling it a “dramatic, unprecedented” usurpation of New Jersey’s authority. “Just as Congress lacks the power to order a state legislature not to enact a law authorizing sports gambling, it may not order a state legislature to refrain from enacting a law licensing sports gambling,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote on behalf of the court.

While the decision effectively opens the door for Maryland to legalize sports betting, it’s unlikely to do so, at least not any time soon. According to the Maryland Constitution, the General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approved through a referendum by a majority of the voters in a general election.

A 2018 bill to legalize sports betting via a referendum failed to pass the General Assembly. That effectively halts the state from legalizing sports wagering in the short term. Even if a law were to pass in 2019, it would still require the approval of voters in the 2020 presidential election.