Supreme Court Sets Date for Arguments in Momentous Sports Betting Case

Outside of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday set the date for oral arguments — December 4, 2017 — in the matter of Christie v. NCAAwhich pits the state of New Jersey against the NCAA, NFL and other professional sports leagues on the matter of sports betting.

The underlying federal law at issue is known as PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act). Enacted in 1992, it has allowed the leagues to block New Jersey from implementing state-licensed sports betting in its borders. Basically, this is the Super Bowl for legalized sports betting proponents, and it took a long legal slog for New Jersey to get this far.

The U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments in New Jersey’s Sports Betting Case on December 4

So how did we get here and where do things stand? If you’re new to this case and want the “Idiot’s Guide” recap, check that out here.

This all boils down to federalism and states’ rights. The case started back in 2009 when New Jersey went after then-U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, but that case stumbled out of the gate. Then in 2011 New Jersey residents voted to legalize sports betting (in a non-binding ballot question) by a 2:1 margin. Before the state could effect that, the leagues sued in federal court, won, and prevented New Jersey from proceeding. On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed with the leagues.

The same thing happened on slightly different grounds in 2014 when the state made the argument that PASPA commandeered the state to keep a law prohibiting sports betting, and by barring it from repealing such law. The Third Circuit once again sided with the leagues but some judges dissented. In June of this year, the high court granted New Jersey’s petition for a writ of certiorari, agreeing to review the case. The state has made viable arguments other than on “commandeering” but that’s the one it appears to be banking on in its brief.

The Leagues Must File Their Briefs by October 16

In a couple weeks when the leagues file the respondents’ brief, we’ll have a better sense of their main talking points. But it will probably be the same one they have been making all along: that the federal government has the power under the Constitution (the commerce clause) to regulate sports betting — and in the manner that PASPA prescribes.

The high court is hearing this case at an interesting time. A recent Washington Post poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans support the legalization of sports betting. This represents a big shift in public opinion over time.

This term the high court once again has a full nine justices. President Donald Trump’s appointee, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, is a conservative who’s viewed as a supporter of state sovereignty, which PASPA subverts, New Jersey has argued. So is Chief Justice John Roberts, which seems to bode well for New Jersey. A lot of smart people think that New Jersey will prevail. But it is far from a sure thing.

Meanwhile, commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, has publicly supported legal, regulated sports betting. And there are reports that the leagues are meeting with Las Vegas sportsbook operators to discuss what the landscape would look like, while players unions are discussing a future with nationwide sports betting as well.

And it is not just New Jersey that wants PASPA declared unconstitutional. Twenty states — including Utah, which doesn’t even have a state lottery — objects to the law on the basis of federalism and state sovereignty. The states (their officials) signed and submitted an amicus brief (“friend of the court”) stating their support for New Jersey. And over a dozen states are preparing to legalize sports betting as well, or are at least contemplating such a move.

Once the Leagues File Their Brief, New Jersey (and Co-Plaintiff, New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association), Will Have Seven Days to File a Reply Brief

In addition to the reply brief, where New Jersey will attempt to rebut the leagues’ arguments, the court will also accept amicus briefs in support of the leagues, possibly from staunch anti-gambling groups and possibly from the U.S. Solicitor General, who acts as the government’s lawyer in SCOTUS cases.

And then it’s showtime on December 4. Both sides will have about 30 minutes to state their cases before the justices while the justices ask questions and raise points. SportsHandle will be there in Washington, D.C. reporting on the latest. The court then has until the end of June 2018 or early July to issue its decision. If New Jersey prevails, the state will probably act quickly to legalize sports betting and issue licenses to casinos.

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