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Gavel to Gavel: An 'affront to state sovereignty'

The U.S. Supreme Court recently opened the door to legalizing an estimated $150 billion in illegal wagers on professional and amateur sports.

The court ruled in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violated the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, prohibited states from authorizing sports gambling. PASPA exempted Nevada (where sports betting has long been legal), along with sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana and Oregon. The 10th Amendment essentially states that any power that is not given to the federal government is given to the people or the states. In Murphy, the court found that PASPA impermissibly authorized the federal government to order the states to prohibit sports gambling. In other words, the provision clearly dictated what a state legislature may and may not do. Justice Alito stated, “A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”

The court’s ruling now allows the individual states to enact statutes that would legalize sports gambling within their borders. As a result, the act is no longer enforceable against states, businesses or individuals. Gamblers will no longer look to offshore wagering operations or bookies. States have proposed legislation that would license a limited number of companies to offer sports betting within a limited number of forums, such as existing racetracks or casinos. No state has yet proposed legislation to create online sports betting. Entrepreneurs seeking to start an online sportsbook should be cautious where they are conducting business as sports gambling in some states is still impermissible. This makes seeking the advice of counsel all the more important before making any decisions that could possibly overestimate the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

And while the court’s ruling in Murphy concerned a statute prohibiting sports gambling, Murphy is about a much broader principle. That is, whether Congress can pass legislation requiring the individual states to act a certain way or to take a certain action. Even more broadly, can the federal government force a state government to act in a certain way or to take particular actions? Seemingly, any federal effort to require states to use their police force in a certain way, like requiring states to round up illegal immigrants, is clearly unconstitutional. It is apparent that principles articulated in Murphy can and perhaps should be applied elsewhere.

Socorro Adams Dooley is an attorney at Fellers Snider.

Fellers Snider

Fellers Snider has a 60-year history of providing superior legal services to clients locally, nationally and abroad. The firm’s objective is to partner with clients to develop practical and cost-effective solutions to their legal problems and needs. Based in Oklahoma City, Fellers Snider is both a litigation and transactional law firm with areas of focus that include complex business litigation, securities fraud, oil and gas, employment law, corporate law, natural resources, intellectual property, bankruptcy and financial services, workers’ compensation defense, insurance defense, white-collar criminal defense, and estate planning.