Sports Gambling and Federalism

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?

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5 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Grandfathering is a usual practice and Congress might have felt that established betting was such an important aspect of local economy that it would be problematic to do away with it there. But, Wikipedia’s entry on the act does cite an equal protection argument. But, other examples of grandfathering of this caliber must be available. Seems weak.

    Wikipedia also notes (w/o sourcing) that some claims are based on gambling being a state matter that the feds don’t have power to regulate in this fashion. Sounds like a regulation of CC to me, but heck, so did PPACA.

  2. Shag from Brookline says:

    “Grandfathering is a usual practice … ” started in America perhaps with the “grandfathering” of slavery in the Constitution. Then there was Dred Scott.

  3. Joe says:

    Dred Scott set forth a curious form of this — basically, even if your grandfather was a slave, no federal citizenship for you.

  4. Shag from Brookline says:

    Touche, Joe, Touche. Grandmothered is more comforting.

  5. David says:

    Another wrinkle in this whole sports betting issue is the WTO ruling against the United States, where Antigua argued that it was an unfair trade restriction that Vegas sportsbooks are allowed to take gambling money from Americans, but offshore ones are not. The US lost that battle (several times, including appeals), but has still refused to legalize online gambling, while Antigua has been granted the right to sell US copyrighted material without compensating the makers. So it seems state and international pressure is on the federal government.