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How The NFL And Other Leagues Will Handle SCOTUS Hearing NJ's Sports Betting Appeal

How The NFL And Other Leagues Will Handle SCOTUS Hearing NJ's Sports Betting Appeal

Up until Tuesday morning when the Supreme Court agreed to issue a ruling on New Jersey’s appeal, the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB were winning the legal sports betting battle. When the leagues filed suit against Governor Christie’s 2012 and 2014 sports betting regulations, judges of the U.S. Third Circuit Court sided with the organizations in each case. Now, the Supreme Court will weigh in on several questions presented by New Jersey, including: https://www.supremecourt.gov/qp/16-00476qp.pdf:

“Does a federal statute that prohibits modification or repeal of state-law prohibitions on private conduct impermissibly commandeer the regulatory power of States…?”

The federal statute referenced in the report is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). PASPA banned nearly every state from offering legalized sports betting. The only exceptions were states that had pre-existing sports betting laws. When the NFL and other leagues took legal action against New Jersey, they cited that the state laws were in violation of PASPA.

The NFL and Sports Gambling

The leagues have consistently stated that protecting the integrity of the game if their chief concern, especially from the mouth of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Though this and citing harm have been their main arguments, the NFL, in particular, has a longstanding history of being against sports gambling.

The first big scandal broke in 1946 after a plot to fix the NFL championship game. Then-commissioner Bert Bell took the opportunity to act swiftly and dismiss the guilty players, a decision that earned the newly appointed commissioner a three-year contract extension.

A few years after another gambling scandal arose in 1963 which saw star players Alex Karras and Paul Hornung suspended for their sports betting activities, the NFL began taking an even stronger stance against sports gambling. The NFL sued Delaware more than once before eventually convincing other sports leagues to follow their lead by suing New Jersey in 2012.

In 1976, the NFL sued Delaware for their plans to legalize sports betting on professional football games. Delaware won the suit as they were covered by PASPA, but this did not stop the NFL from again going after DE in 1990. The NFL claimed that their intellectual property rights were being infringed upon, and asked that the current laws be modified. Congress ultimately disagreed, but the NFL still had a win of sorts. Less than two years after losing their case, then-Senator Bill Bradley enacted PASPA in order to stop the spread of sports betting throughout the United States.

How League Attitudes Have Changed Since 2012

Though the NFL may have convinced the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA to take legal action against NJ five years ago, their united front has begun to crack. While some leagues like the NHL have chosen to remain relatively quiet during the legalized sports betting discussion, others have been at the forefront of propelling change. Here are examples of how attitudes have changed in recent years:

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been the most vocal about his support for legalized sports betting in a regulated environment. He has recognized that there is an “obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events.”

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred discussed how the league has already started conducting additional research on legalized sports gambling, though they are not yet firm supporters like Silver.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure we understand what the facts are, what kind of legalized gambling are you talking about, how would it be regulated, what are the threats to the integrity of the make sure the institution is in a position to deal with whatever roads come down the road”

In March, NFL owners voted to relocate the Oakland Raiders to Nevada by 2020. The NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights will begin playing in the 2017-2018 season, with the T-Mobile Arena on the Vegas Strip being the site of their home games. Nevada is the only state in the nation that offers single-game sports wagering.

Many of the leagues, including the NBA and NHL, have invested in daily fantasy sports companies like DraftKings.

What Will The Leagues’ Plan Of Action Be?

Though Silver has suggested a federal framework for sports betting, there is a very slim chance that SCOTUS would make such a move. Especially when considering that one of New Jersey’s complaints is regarding state sovereignty.

For the sports leagues, regulating sports betting on their own terms would be ideal but that would require a swift change in strategy. The plaintiffs would need to push for an agreement between New Jersey that would permit the state to offer wagering on their games, while still following proposed regulatory mandates.

If the leagues lose their case and SCOTUS does declare PASPA unconstitutional, they will no longer have any control over how New Jersey (or any other state) regulates sports betting.

“Paspa’s days may be numbered,” said Daniel Wallach, a Tallahassee Sports Gaming Attorney. "The court can overturn federal statute and provide a free and clear pathway for Congress to take this up. It’s the perfect time for the leagues, casino industry and Congress to come together, and I think it potentially opens sports betting up nationally by the 2018 N.F.L. season.”