Explainer: Supreme Court ends ban on sports gambling

May 17, 2018

What just happened?

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that prohibited states from allowing betting on amateur or professional sports.

In the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violated the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

What is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act?

The court’s ruling struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (also known as PASPA or the Bradley Act). This law made it unlawful for a “governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact,” or “a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.”

PASPA does not make sports gambling itself a federal crime, but merely allows the U.S. Attorney General, as well as professional and amateur sports organizations, to bring civil actions against violators.

The law gave “grandfather” exemptions to sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon, as well as the licensed sports pools in Nevada.

What is Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)?

New Jersey voters approved an amendment to their state constitution giving the legislature the authority to legalize sports gambling in Atlantic City and at horseracing tracks. The NCAA and three major professional sports leagues filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the action violated PASPA. New Jersey countered that PASPA violates the Constitution’s “anti-commandeering” principle.

In a 6-3 ruling, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, Kagan, and Gorsuch, agreed with New Jersey and ruled PASPA was unconstitutional.

The majority opinion notes that, “The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject.” But the justices said the decision of whether to legalize sports gambling “requires an important policy choice” which “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.”

What are the 10th Amendment and the Anti-Commandeering Principle?

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Anti-Commandeering Principle is a doctrine based on the 10th Amendment and established by the Supreme Court in New York v. United States and Printz v. United States (1992), prohibiting the federal government from “commandeering” state governments. As Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority in New York v. United States decision, “As an initial matter, Congress may not simply ‘commandee[r] the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.’”

“While Congress has substantial powers to govern the Nation directly, including in areas of intimate concern to the States, the Constitution has never been understood to confer upon Congress the ability to require the States to govern according to Congress’ instructions,” O’Connor added.

What are the implications of this case?

The ruling in Murphy v. NCAA strengthens the Anti-Commandeering Principle, thus shifting power from the federal government to the states. Because this ruling will likely be used as support for other cases, it could have a significant impact apart from the gambling issue.

“Their decision not only opens the door for states around the country to allow sports betting,” says Amy Howe, “but it also could give significantly more power to states generally, on issues ranging from the decriminalization of marijuana to sanctuary cities.” Howe adds,

Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, potentially affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

What is the problem with sports betting?

As David E. Prince explained in an article on fantasy football gambling leagues:

Simply put, gambling is a societal evil that preys on those most in need. While some may say, “You don’t have to participate in gambling, so it’s nothing to be concerned about,” that way of thinking does not hold for one who desires to follow Christ. Our Lord does not call us to love ourselves; rather, we are to love him and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

The biblical witness is clear that one of the vital ways we love God is by loving our neighbor. Gambling appeals to greed, and there is simply no way for a follower of Jesus to gamble to the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. Proverbs 28:25 says, “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Anyone who has ever witnessed the devastation wrought by people who gamble their future away, attempting to get something-for-nothing, knows well the expansive tornadic path of destruction gambling greed produces.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More