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In surprise move, Supreme Court says it will take on New Jersey sports-betting case

Coming soon to a casino near you? (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday announced it will hear arguments in the state of New Jersey’s quest to legalize sports gambling, overruling the U.S. Solicitor General’s opinion that the case was not worthy of its time. The court generally gives great weight to the solicitor general’s input, but apparently the judges feel this case deserves their attention.

New Jersey has been seeking to legalize sports betting for some time in an attempt to prop up its sagging casino industry, with each attempt successfully opposed by the major U.S. sports leagues and the NCAA in federal court. At issue is the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which bans sports gambling in all but a handful of states. The law has not stopped the spread of sports betting in the United States, however, with some studies estimating that hundreds of billions of dollars are wagered illegally in this country each year.

And even if New Jersey loses its Supreme Court case, its fight for sports gambling has put the issue in the national spotlight, generating a new conversation about whether a partial ban on sports betting is the best way forward. Though the U.S. professional sports leagues have opposed New Jersey in court, a number of them have shown an evolution of thought on sports gambling. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long supported federally regulated sports gambling while the NFL and NHL will soon have franchises located in Las Vegas, a notion that would have been inconceivable just a few years ago.

Last month, a congressional committee introduced draft legislation that would repeal PASPA and allow states to legalize online gambling, with oversight provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Frank Pallone Jr. (D), the New Jersey congressman who is spearheading the federal legislation, said Tuesday he was cheered by the news out of the Supreme Court.

A number of other states beyond New Jersey also have considered legislation that would legalize the practice.

The American Gaming Association, a proponent of expanding sports gambling, also applauded the news.

“The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 has failed to protect sports and fans. PASPA, which is approaching its 25th anniversary, is fueling an unregulated $150 billion illegal gambling market that continues to deprive states of vital public funding for services such as law enforcement and infrastructure,” AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement. “We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case. And we are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”

No date has been set for the one-hour oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court justices, though a timeline for the case appears to be taking shape. Each side will file briefs supporting their arguments over the next few months.