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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Christie vs. NCAA, also known as the New Jersey Sports Betting Case, is a Supreme Court case involving former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and the NCAA, MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.  In 2011, New Jersey voters passed a referendum allowing sports gambling at New Jersey casinos and racetracks with Atlantic City being one of the hubs for this activity.  The NCAA, MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL sued the state of New Jersey in 2012 citing PAPSA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.  PAPSA prohibits sports gambling in all states other than Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.  According to PAPSA, it shall be unlawful for

“a governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact, or person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games” (28 US Code § 3702).

In response to the lawsuit brought upon New Jersey, the state argued that PAPSA is a violation of the 10th amendment, citing that it is within the states' rights to make decisions regarding sports gambling, and should not a federal matter.  According to Printz v. United States (1997) and New York v. United States (1992), “the federal government cannot require state officials to help enforce federal law, or force state legislatures to enact any legislation” (Somin 2017).   As a result, a federal law such as PAPSA cannot force New Jersey to ban sports betting under state law, despite sports betting being an illegal activity under federal law.  

Originally the case was referred to as Christie vs. the NCAA because Chris Christie was the governor of New Jersey who signed the referendum into law.  Following a long complicated process of appeals spanning a few years time, Chris Christie's tenure of governor ended and his successor, the current governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy took over power and therefore naming rights in the case.  As a result, the official Supreme Court docket reads ‘Phillip D. Murphy, Governor of New Jersey, et al., Petitioners v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al.' (Supreme Court).  After the NCAA and leagues decided to sue New Jersey for their referendum allowing sports gambling, New Jersey repeal PAPSA and appeal the decision in favor of the leagues despite the case not reaching the Supreme Court in 2012.  In 2014, New Jersey attempted once more to repeal PAPSA claiming that it was unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment.  

This second repeal lost in the US District Court and then again in the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision.  Left with no other option, the state of New Jersey requested an en banc hearing, where a case is heard in front of all of the judges of the Third Circuit Court, rather than just a select few.  En banc hearings are typically reserved for unusually complex or extremely important cases, and are therefore on the rare side, however New Jersey was granted an en banc hearing.  After losing once again in the en banc hearing during the summer of 2016, New Jersey attempted once more to appeal to the Supreme Court.  US Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the Supreme Court to not take up the appeal, however the Supreme Court accepted anyways and granted the petition for appeal in June of 2017 with oral arguments set for December 10th, 2017.  

The Oral arguments were set up in a format over the course of an hour, where New Jersey Lawyers were granted half an hour to present their arguments, with the other half an hour granted to the NCAA and the leagues to present their arguments.  Ten minutes of the time granted to the NCAA and leagues was reserved for the US Solicitor General as he was on their side.  Representing the state of New Jersey was Ted Olson, while Paul Clement represented the NCAA and leagues, both of which were former Solicitor Generals themselves.  Following the hearing of oral arguments, the Supreme Court provided a schedule of eleven potential dates when they release decisions with the earliest being January 22nd and the latest being June 29th (Gouker 2017).

The decision made on this case will likely have a tremendous impact on the future sports landscape, regardless of how the Supreme Court decides to rule.  There are a few different potential outcomes from the oral arguments, which would lead to different futures for the world of sports and sports gambling.  One potential outcome of the case is that PAPSA is confirmed to be constitutional under one or more of several constitutional doctrines and New Jersey's repeal violates PAPSA.  In other words, New Jersey's referendum would be denied and sport gambling would remain illegal in all states other than those grandfathered in through PAPSA, being Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.  If this is the case, the massive illegal sport gambling business would likely continue to grow and the leagues and states would continue to miss out on potential opportunities to receive additional revenue.  

A second potential outcome would be accepting New Jersey's partial repeal of PAPSA, but still considering the law to be constitutional for other states until they attempt to appeal as well.  This would likely just slow down the process for widespread legal sports gambling as other states could cite the New Jersey case when making their own arguments in court.  Allowing New Jersey to act as a sort of guinea pig could be very beneficial to the new system, however, and may be the right path to take for the Supreme Court, as they could monitor New Jersey and figure out what sorts of regulations are necessary and how to go about taxing the new industry.  That way once more and more states file their own repeals of PAPSA, there will already be a system in place for them to follow.  If PAPSA is ruled unconstitutional and all states are granted the right to legalized sports gambling, there could be a quick rise in corruption that becomes uncontrollable or untraceable.  The downside of course is the additional expenses to go through a process for each state with the results almost inevitably favoring the states and the legalization of sport gambling.  Since each state would go through the process independently, it would take a much longer time for the entire country to be on the same page regarding legalized sports gambling which could cause complications.  

Another potential outcome of the case is that PAPSA is ruled unconstitutional and would no longer be a federal law, meaning that New Jersey wins the repeal.  This is perhaps the most altering outcome because it would mean that sports gambling would be allowed in all fifty states, and while the NCAA and some leagues would likely continue to fight against it, other leagues would certainly find ways to benefit from legalized gambling.   There is an upside to this outcome, as PAPSA evidently has not effectively prevented illegal gambling since 1992 despite stopping legal gambling.  There was an estimated $60 billion wagered on NCAA football games in the 2017 season, and potentially this number could be even larger as it is hard to measure all of the illegal wagers.  Meanwhile there is an estimated $8 billion wagered on the Super Bowl alone, with less than 100 million of it coming legally through Nevada casinos.  According to the FBI there is an estimated $2.5 billion that is illegally wagered during March Madness each year, making up roughly 25% of all illegal wagers on collegiate basketball (Spear, 2015).  By opening the doors to all states and allowing gambling on sports, there could be a rise in that total number wagered, and there would also be regulations, marketing, and taxation in order to keep the industry under control and allow states to make money from it.  As sports gambling is such a controversial activity to begin with, it would be important for States to use tax money generated from legalized sport gambling for good causes, like improving infrastructure or investing money in public education.  There would also need to be regulations put in place regarding age limits for sport gamblers, likely 18 years old as that is the age currently set for the lottery and other forms of gambling throughout the United States.  There are also negative outcomes if the Supreme Court were to rule this way.  For example, the NCAA is already constantly in hot water regarding amateurism in sport and not paying athletes that generate immense revenues for their respective schools.  If the NCAA and schools were to make deals with sports gambling companies, the athletes would only be missing out on even more potential revenue for their athletic output.   Additionally, there would need to be heavy regulations to prevent point shaving and other sport related gambling scandals.  

In the past, there have been many instances where players accept money to perform poorly intentionally and throw games so that gamblers can make a profit off of the predetermined outcome of the game. Potentially the most infamous case at the professional level occurred during the 1919 World Series, known as the Black Sox Scandal, where a number of players for the Chicago White Sox were caught fixing games in order to make money for a large gambling syndicate.  Similarly, at the collegiate level, the Boston College Men's Basketball team were involved in a point-shaving scandal during the 1978-79 season in order to make money for the mob.  Just 17 years later, Boston College's Football team was found involved with a gambling scandal resulting in the permanent ban of 6 players and season-long suspension of 13 others.  Coaches, referees, and officials have even been caught involved with gambling syndicates of some form, proving that regardless of the legality of sports gambling, there will always be a need for regulation to promote integrity and prevent future game-fixing and point-shaving activities.

Although the only remaining parties that are strongly opposed to New Jersey's repeal are the NCAA, NBA, and NFL, the Players associations from the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB released a joint statement on something they all agree upon.  They want to ensure that if the repeal is passed, PAPSA is ruled unconstitutional, and sports gambling is legalized, that the players in each respective league will be able to receive some portion of additional revenues made by the sports league from gambling.  

After researching and providing the potential outcomes of this case, it was announced on May 14th, 2018, that the Supreme Court had made their decision.  A 6-3 ruling in favor of New Jersey was decided, with the Supreme Court ruling PAPSA unconstitutional and allowing states to regulate and legalize sports betting at their own discretion.  At the time of the ruling, the NCAA, NFL and NBA were all still backing the federal prohibition of sports gambling, while the MLB and NHL had made statements that seemed to favor the legalization of sport gambling.  MLB's statement stressed that “Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games,” and that “We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal” (Vogue & Vazquez, 2018).  Justice Samuel Alito wrote the ruling stating, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours 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” (Vogue & Vazquez, 2018).  The NFL on the other hand has announced that they plan to lobby congress regarding regulation before sports betting essentially spreads from state to state and it becomes too late to regulate entirely.  Since the Supreme Court's ruling essentially stated that betting laws would be determined on a state-by-state basis, the NFL's proposal to Congress may come up short.  The official statement of the NFL emphasized that, “The NFL's long-standing and unwavering commitment to protecting the integrity of our game remains absolute”, and that “Congress has long-recognized the potential harms posed by the sports betting to the integrity of sporting contests and the public confidence in these events” (Breech, 2018).  Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, released a statement similar to that of the NFL, saying that the league “remain[s] in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it,” adding that “the integrity of our game remains our highest priority” (Breech, 2018).

Meanwhile, proponents of the repeal passing and PAPSA being ruled unconstitutional are extremely excited about the potential new job creation that will be made possible once a regulated system is put into place.   Companies like FanDuel and DraftKings have already begun to lead the way in terms of how sports gambling can be regulated and profits can be made without causing major disruptions or provoking unwanted and unwarranted fixing of games.  Leagues will likely realize how much of a positive impact the legalization of sports gambling will have on their products, as activities like fantasy sports have already done a tremendous job in engaging fans who may otherwise not care about more than one team's performance during a season.  Fantasy football, for instance, has users focused on specific players across a majority of the teams in the league, therefore being more engaged in more games during the season.  The NFL will surely be able to continue to capitalize on the fantasy football culture and other new forms of sports gambling, while cooperating with sports books to ensure that all data is accurate and synchronized.  

In conclusion, I believe that the decision that has been made will create a long-lasting positive impact on the future of sport, as well as the United States in general, assuming that the correct regulations are put into place before everything gets out of hand.  While I believe the decision that would have allowed sports gambling to be least corrupt and most well-regulated would have been to accept New Jersey's repeal and allow other states to repeal on their own, I still believe that the legalization of sports betting is best.  I would suggest that the NCAA takes further action towards ensuring regulation compared to the professional leagues, as players may be more tempted to accept bribes at the college level to make money.  Professional players already receive high salaries and therefore the temptation is not as strong for them to shave points or throw games.  With the beast that is March Madness, I can especially see this being an issue with collegiate basketball players, and it will certainly be interesting to see how the first modern March Madness Bracket Pool with legalized gambling will go about.  In order for a secure and regulated sport gambling market to exist, leagues and states will need to act quickly before they are met with challenges and loopholes that they are unable to fix, leaving the potential for a tremendous money making industry corrupt and unsustainable.  

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