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May 14, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court decision paves way for sports gambling in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware

There's an outside chance Atlantic City casinos could have betting up and running in time for the NBA Finals

Courts Gambling
Atlantic City skyline Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Casinos fill the Atlantic City skyline, May 1, 2018.

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for New Jersey to permit sports gambling on Monday by striking down a federal law that significantly restricted where and how sports bets could be placed.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act prevented states from permitting sports gambling, although exceptions had been made to allow gambling in Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.

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Only in Nevada could people bet on single professional and college sports games. In Delaware, legalized sports betting was limited to parlay bets on NFL football.

But in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, allowing New Jersey to proceed with its efforts to legalize sports betting. Other states are likely to follow.

In 2014, former Gov. Chris Christie signed a law that allowed sports betting at the state's horse tracks and casinos. But the NCAA and professional sports teams fought the law in court, with the case ultimately being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement saying he was "thrilled" that Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey.

"New Jersey has long been the lead advocate in fighting this inherently unequal law and today's ruling will finally allow for authorized facilities in New Jersey to take the same bets that are legal in other states in our country," Murphy said.

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Last month, Murphy said New Jersey was prepared to legalize sports betting "sooner than later" if the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – or PASPA. New Jersey had argued that the law – passed in 1992 – violated the 10th Amendment, which hands states any powers not delegated to the federal government.

Following Monday's Supreme Court decision, ESPN reported that New Jersey could be an option for sports bettors within weeks – possibly in time for the NBA Finals. The site listed Pennsylvania and Delaware as among the states "ahead of the game" in terms of enacting sports betting legislation in the coming months.

"I think this is the domino to fall, if you will," said Joseph Mahan, the chair of Temple University's Sport and Recreation Management department. "I think the others will fall relatively quickly."

Sports betting could open quickly in New Jersey, given that casinos have anticipated this ruling for months, Mahan said. And Pennsylvania and Delaware might not be far behind.

"What the Supreme Court decision does is allow states to make the decision to legalize sports betting," Mahan said. "Obviously, New Jersey had already passed that law. Delaware has some elements of sports betting already in place."

Pennsylvania passed a law last fall that would permit its 12 casinos to apply for sports gambling certificates – at a $10 million cost. Sports betting revenue would be taxed at 36 percent.

The law also permitted online sports gambling. Gamblers do not need to be a Pennsylvania resident, but they must place their bets within the Keystone State. 

The sponsor of that law – state Rep. Rob Matzie, of Beaver County – praised the Supreme Court ruling, which enables Pennsylvania to move forward with its sports gambling plans.

"Well, it only took us until 2018 to do what should have been legal for years," Matzie said in a video statement. "I believe when I first introduced this language last year, that the commonwealth was in the position to regulate sports betting in all forms, that we needed to put the cart before the horse and be ready. ... Pennsylvania's ready."

Delaware has allowed parlay bets on NFL football games since 2009. But gamblers have been unable to place bets on single games.

Delaware recorded $46.1 million in parlay sales last year, according to the Wilmington News Journal. But that only resulted in $2.2 million of tax revenue due to an unusually high success rate for gamblers.

"The thought is that a favorable ruling would mean anything that's offered in Las Vegas could be offered here in Delaware or any other state," Delaware Lottery director Vernon Kirk told the newspaper in December. "Whether we would do that remains undecided, but we are considering what that might look like if we did."

Kirk did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Efforts to legalize sports gambling in New Jersey date back seven years. 

In 2011, Garden State voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution to legalize sports gambling. Christie signed a law legalizing gambling the following year, but it was overturned in the federal court system.

Three years later, Christie signed that law that led to Monday's Supreme Court decision. 

Justice Samuel Alito, a New Jersey native, penned the court's opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer penned an opinion that partially concurred and partially dissented.