Sports Gambling and Federalism
posted by Gerard Magliocca
I noted with interest an article in this week’s New Yorker discussing a lawsuit by New Jersey challenging the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Betting Act. This statute, enacted in 1992, provides that no state can authorize sports betting other than those where it was lawful at roughly the time the Act became law. New Jersey wants to legalize sports betting now and is claiming that this statute violates principles of federalism by singling out certain states (especially Nevada) for special treatment. (I looked for the briefs or pleadings in NJ’s suit, but could not find them.)
While this law strikes me as pretty silly, I am not sure about the constitutional argument. One thought is that this might be a rare example of an irrational law. If Congress thought that sports betting was harmful, how did restricting it to certain states help? Presumably, a citizen of New Jersey can bet on the Jets in Vegas, so what difference can it make from that perspective if that person could instead wager in Atlantic City? Another thought is that there is something wrong with treating the states unequally in an obvious way, though I’m not sure that there is a constitutional problem with, in essence, grandfathering certain states in as part of a federal scheme.
What other possibilities are there?