12/04/2017 3:56PM

Supreme Court hears arguments on sports betting

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a case focusing on whether the federal government is within its rights to prohibit states from authorizing gambling on sports, with the discussion centering on whether a current federal law violates a principle disallowing the federal government from “commandeering” policy at the state level, according to published reports after the oral arguments concluded.

The case, which pits the state of New Jersey against a consortium of sports leagues, is being closely watched throughout the gambling industry because of its potential to lead to the expansion of sports betting. In addition, the racing industry is directly involved in the case, with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association filing arguments in support of New Jersey’s contention that the federal law should be struck down.

The 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), prohibits the vast majority of U.S. states from passing legislation that would authorize gambling on sports. New Jersey has attempted to skirt the prohibition using a variety of maneuvers since 2011, when voters passed a referendum to legalize sports betting, but a succession of lower courts have ruled against the state’s efforts, siding with the sports leagues. The Supreme Court agreed to take up the case earlier this year.

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According to the published reports, several Supreme Court justices weighed whether the federal law was commandeering or pre-emption. Courts have held in the past that commandeering is prohibited under the Constitution, while pre-emption is permissible. The distinction between the two can be subtle.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote in cases involving the extent of states’ rights, appeared to be leaning toward accepting that the PASPA was commandeering, according to the reports.

“The citizens of the State of New Jersey are bound to obey a law that the state doesn’t want but that the federal government compels the state to have,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, according to the New York Times.

Two of the courts liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan, however, suggested during the hour-long oral arguments that the PASPA could be viewed as pre-empting states from engaging in activities the federal government intended to regulate.

“This sounds to me like the language of pre-emption,” Kagan said, according to Reuters.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling in the case in the spring.