As many of our readers are aware, sports betting is currently illegal in every state, except Nevada, and Delaware to a limited degree.  Despite numerous attempts to legalize sports betting outside these states, federal courts have uniformly rejected such legislation as being in direct conflict with the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). However, based upon an op-ed article appearing in the New York Times yesterday (November 13, 2014), advocates of legalized sports betting appear to have a new ally in NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

In his op-ed, Commissioner Silver acknowledged the historically widespread support of PASPA by major sports leagues, such as the NFL, MLB and NCAA, respectively, but stated that “despite legal restrictions, sports betting is widespread. It is a thriving underground business that operates free from regulation or oversight. Because there are few legal options available, those who wish to bet resort to illicit bookmaking operations and shady offshore websites.”  He goes on to state that “[t]imes have changed since PASPA was enacted. Gambling has increasingly become a popular and accepted form of entertainment in the United States . . . . I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”

Previous State Attempts to Legalize Sports Betting

Commissioner Silver is not alone in his opinions, with New Jersey being the most persistent state to advocate for the legalization of sports gambling.  As we first announced in 2013, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey struck down New Jersey’s sports gambling law on the grounds that it was inconsistent with PASPA.  Not long afterwards, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appealed the district court’s decision, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the district court.  The State of New Jersey then petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to hear the case, but his petition was declined.

Despite the foregoing, New Jersey decided to allow casinos in the State to offer sports betting, essentially decriminalizing sports betting activity.  New Jersey Attorney General found that “the provisions of the [New Jersey] Sports Wagering Act exempting casinos and racetracks from criminal liability for opening a sports pool . . . remain in force and effect, and all law enforcement and prosecuting agencies in carrying out their duties under the laws of the State of New Jersey shall abide by that exemption.”  New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak also agreed with the actions of Governor Christie, stating that federal courts “can’t challenge our lack of a law [prohibiting sports betting].”  However, on October 24, 2014, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp of the District of New Jersey granted a temporary restraining order enjoining sport betting within the State, “while the core issues surrounding sports wagering in New Jersey are fully considered by the court.”

Impact of NBA Commissioner’s Sports Betting Advocacy Op-Ed  

As previously articulated, the primary advocates of enforcing the provisions of PASPA have historically been major professional sports leagues. The public denouncement of PASPA by the commissioner of one of those leagues will undoubtedly bring more attention to the matter and may even signal a turning tide in favor of legalizing sports betting, but we will have to wait to see if the federal government enforces the provisions of PASPA against the State of New Jersey.  We will continue to keep you posted on further developments.