On May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which, among other things, bans most states from authorizing sports gambling, violates the 10th Amendment “anticommandeering” principle. The decision results from a lawsuit filed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and four major professional sports leagues alleging that a 2012 New Jersey state law legalizing sports betting violated PASPA. The district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit agreed with the NCAA and New Jersey revised the law in 2014. The new law removed existing bans on sports gambling at horseracing tracks, casinos, and gambling houses in Atlantic City as long as the wagers did not involve New Jersey college teams or a collegiate event in the state. The NCAA filed suit again and the district court, with the 3rd Circuit affirming, held that the revised law violated PASPA. New Jersey appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that PASPA violates the “anticommandeering” principle of the Constitution.
In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, holding that the PASPA provision, which prohibits state authorization of sports gambling, “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may and may not do.” The Court rejected the NCAA’s argument that PASPA preempts, not commandeers, state laws that conflict with its provisions, concluding that preemption applies to private actors and the prohibition cannot be understood “as anything other than a direct command to the States.” The Court went on to hold that no provision of PASPA is severable from the anti-authorization provision and, therefore, the entire law should be struck down. The majority acknowledged that the legalization of sports gambling is an important, yet controversial, policy choice but not a choice for the Court to make. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.”