Sports Betting is Now Legal in New Jersey. Is Your State Next?

Sports Betting
Sports betting is legal in the United States? Or is it? Photo by George Hodan [CC License].
  • Sports betting is legal now!
  • Well, not exactly
  • It’s certainly less illegal than it was on Monday morning

As you may have heard, the Supreme Court’s decision on Murphy v NCAA was announced on Monday. The long-awaited sports betting decision came down largely as expected, but there are some people and outlets talking about it in a way that may be misleading to bettors.

We’ll review how the case turned out, what it means for bettors, and what it means for the future of sports betting in the United States.

Odds
Odds more states will have legal sports betting than marijuana in 2020 1/1
Odds online sports betting is legal in 2020 4/1

Wait, what is Murphy v NCAA?

It’s a Supreme Court case in which the state of New Jersey challenged the constitutionality of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992), a federal law that prohibited states from allowing sports betting. New Jersey tried to repeal its own ban on sports betting, the four major sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the resulting legal squabble found its way to the Supreme Court.

If you remember civics class/your libertarian uncle, you’ll recognize some pretty obvious Tenth Amendment issues that arise from the federal government dictating what a state government can do with its own regulations, and those were at the centre of this case.

We wrote a whole article about this case back before the decision came out. It will give you a good idea about the background of this case, and what it is and isn’t. Here we’re going to talk about the effects of this decision, about what it does and does not mean for you.

What was the decision in Murphy v NCAA?

Justice Alito read the opinion, and it was more or less what observers expected. The court agreed with New Jersey that PASPA violated a pretty fundamental structural element of the Constitution, and that it “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” It was labelled an “affront to state sovereignty” and just doesn’t work with some of the central principles of American government.

States will no longer be bound to their existing prohibitions on sports betting, and will be free to sanction or authorize sports betting.

Thus PASPA was deemed unconstitutional, and irreparably so. States will no longer be bound to their existing prohibitions on sports betting, and will be free to sanction or authorize sports betting, within the boundaries of other gambling laws. In other words, New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks can now allow sports betting.

Is sports betting legal now?

It all depends on where you live and how you like to bet. Chances are that the way you like to bet is not legal where you live. Sorry.

If you live in Oregon, Delaware, Montana, or Nevada, sports betting was already permitted. If you live in New Jersey, you’ll be able to make bets at the casinos and racetracks that were at the center of this lawsuit in the first place. Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi all passed legislation just in case this decision came down this way, so you’ll be able to place bets at casinos just as soon as those casinos can get their infrastructure in place. Most reliable sources say that will take about two weeks.

Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Mississippi all passed legislation just in case this decision came down this way, so you’ll be able to place bets at casinos just as soon as those casinos can get their infrastructure in place.

If you like betting online, you’re still out of luck. Sports betting is still explicitly mentioned and prohibited in the Federal Wire Act, and still falls afoul of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2016, and thus is still illegal in the United States.

What has changed is that the federal ban on states permitting sports betting is no longer constitutional and no longer in place, so if your state wants to rescind its ban on sports betting, it can do that.

This could become a familiar sight in casinos across America. Photo by Baishampayan Ghos (Flickr) [CC License]

When will my state make sports betting legal?

When you get out there and organize, my friend. Run for state legislature, that’s where the real power in American politics is.

Las Vegas absorbs about $5 billion in sports bets every year, and the value of the illegal betting market in the United States is right around $100 billion.

It’s actually not a tough sell. Las Vegas absorbs about $5 billion in sports bets every year, and the value of the illegal betting market in the United States is right around $100 billion. If your state is hurting for revenue, and it likely is, bringing this market out of the shadows and into the state budget could be a boon.

As we’ve mentioned, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Mississippi got out ahead of this one. That erodes the monopoly Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana have enjoyed. Maybe your state will be next?

What are the next steps for making sports betting legal?

The biggest obstacle to fully legal, online sports betting is the part of the Federal Wire Act that deals with use of a “wire communication facility” for the “placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest.” A pretty plain reading of that language leaves you with a federal ban on internet sports betting.

*Stephen A Smith voice* BUT!

The Federal Wire Act was passed in 1961, well before the internet was even a thing, and doesn’t specifically mention the internet. Everyone has just been operating under the assumption that it qualifies as a “wire communication facility” but that assumption hasn’t really been interrogated.

The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Federal Wire Act applies to online gambling, and will probably have to very soon. When that day comes, come back to Sports Betting Dime, your home for legal analysis.