Safe Bet: Why the Decision in Murphy v. NCAA Has Paved the Way for Legalized Sports Betting - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Safe Bet: Why the Decision in Murphy v. NCAA Has Paved the Way for Legalized Sports Betting

Safe Bet: Why the Decision in Murphy v. NCAA Has Paved the Way for Legalized Sports Betting

On May 14, 2018, sports gamblers nationwide rejoiced. Usually when that happens you can safely assume it was because there was the Super Bowl, March Madness, a boxing match or a NCAA game. This time, however, the celebrations was for a Supreme Court decision.

That decision was Murphy v. NCAA, and the potential effects of the decision are important for sports gamblers nationwide.1 The case came about when the State of New Jersey sought to legalize sports gambling at casinos and horseracing tracks, but a federal law—the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) —prevented the State from authorizing sports gambling schemes.2 Originally titled Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the issue decided before the Court was whether the provision in PASPA forbidding states from authorizing sports gambling schemes is compatible with the system of “dual sovereignty” embodied in the Constitution.3

The Court in Murphy held that PASPA violated the anti-commandeering rule by prohibiting state authorization and licensing of sports gambling schemes, and struck down the law.4 The rationale behind the holding is to maintain the notion of dual sovereignty-that the federal government may not dictate what a state legislature may or may not do.5 In sum, if a state wants to legalize sports betting, PASPA is no longer able to stop it.6

Proponents of  legalization argue that illegal sports gambling is a 50 billion to 150 billion dollar industry and, if legalized nationwide, could provide states with added tax revenue7 and decrease the power of organized crime groups currently involved in sports gambling.8 Critics of legalized sports gambling argue that legalization would result in an increase of those who become addicted—particularly young people with an interest in sports.9 In addition, there are concerns about the integrity of sports games if legalization occurs.10 Ultimately, these policy arguments are likely to resurface again and again in the battle for legalization that is occurring across the states.

The Murphy v. NCAA decision is undoubtedly a win for sports gamblers in the road to legalization. However, the war for legalization in many states has not yet been won as sports gamblers must face their final opponents, state legislatures. That being said, there is evidence to suggest that PASPA was the largest hurdle for legalized sports betting to overcome before other states adopt similar resolutions.11 Indeed, “nearly 20 states have introduced bills that could legalize sports betting, and a 2017 report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimated that as many as 32 states could offer legal sports betting within the next five years.”12 That report is consistent with a recent poll that determined that a majority of Americans now support the legalization of sports betting.13 This is in contrast with the conclusion reached nearly 25 years ago when PASPA was enacted.14

As a result, sports gamblers have good reason to be optimistic: public opinion seems to be on their side and, with a major legal roadblock out of the way, the dominoes seem to be falling. As of the date of this article, sports betting, in some form or another, is legal in the following states: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, and West Virginia with the possibility of many more to come.15


  1. Murphy v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 138 S. Ct. 1461 (2018).

  2. Id. at 1465-66.

  3. Id. at 1468.

  4. Id. at 1481.

  5. Id. at 1478.

  6. Id. at 1484-85.

  7. Rick Maese, What the Supreme Court’s Sports Gambling Decision Means, The Wash. Post (May 14, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2018/05/14/what-the-supreme-courts-sports-gambling-decision-means/?utm_term=.6c6ede06f8b8. [https://perma.cc/SP84-GQDV]

  8. Murphy, 138 S. Ct. at 1484.

  9. Id. at 1469.

  10. Id. at 1469-70.

  11. See Maese, supra note 7.

  12. Id.

  13. Rick Maese & Emily Guskin, Poll: For First Time, Majority of Americans Approve of Legalizing Sports Betting, The Wash. Post (Sept. 26, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/poll-for-first-time-majority-of-americans-approve-of-legalizing-sports-betting/2017/09/26/a18b97ca-a226-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?utm_term=.2570f8efd115. [https://perma.cc/6283-4YSE]

  14. Id.

  15. Ryan Rodenberg, State-By-State Sports Betting Bill Tracker, ESPN (Sept. 21, 2018), http://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/19740480/gambling-sports-betting-bill-tracker-all-50-states. [https://perma.cc/XN5W-2SEK]

William Massa

Billy Massa is a second-year law student at Fordham University School of Law, and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media, & Entertainment Law Journal. He holds a B.A. in Economics and an M.B.A. from Stony Brook University.