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U.S. Supreme Court Gives States Go-Ahead To Legalize Sports Betting

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

On a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

"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. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

The court's decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state.

"I am thrilled to see the Supreme Court finally side with New Jersey and strike down the arbitrary ban on sports betting imposed by Congress decades ago," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said. "New Jersey has long been the lead advocate in fighting this inherently unequal law, and today's ruling will finally allow for authorized facilities in New Jersey to take the same bets that are legal in other states in our country."

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the decision "a great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions... I am proud to have fought for the rights of the people of [New Jersey]."

More than a dozen states had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, barring states from authorizing sports betting. New Jersey said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can't require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.

All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey's gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released the following statement: "Today's decision by the Supreme Court opens the door for states to pass laws legalizing sports betting. We remain in favor of a federal framework that would provide a uniform approach to sports gambling in states that choose to permit it, but we will remain active in ongoing discussions with state legislatures. Regardless of the particulars of any future sports betting law, the integrity of our game remains our highest priority."

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

"Today's decision is a victory for the millions of Americans who seek to bet on sports in a safe and regulated manner," said AGA President Geoff Freeman. "Today's ruling makes it possible for states and sovereign tribal nations to give Americans what they want: an open, transparent, and responsible market for sports betting. Through smart, efficient regulation this new market will protect consumers, preserve the integrity of the games we love, empower law enforcement to fight illegal gambling, and generate new revenue for states, sporting bodies, broadcasters and many others."

The 1992 law at issue in the case bars state-authorized sports gambling with exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware, states that had approved some form of sports wagering before the law took effect. Nevada is the only state where a person can wager on the results of a single game, though the law doesn't cover wagering between friends. The law also doesn't cover animal races, such as horse racing, which many states already allow.

New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos, racetracks and former racetracks. In 2012, with voters' support, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law allowing sports betting, directly challenging the 1992 federal law which says states can't "authorize by law" sports gambling. The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the state lost in court.

New Jersey lawmakers have been preparing for this moment.

"My legislation allows them to start immediately, to tax them, which we will want to, to generate additional revenue for the state," former State Senator Ray Lesniak said.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney echoed Lesniak's sentiment, saying legislation is not needed in order for gambling to begin. So Monmouth Park, for example, can start taking bets in a few days. The horse track there has been set up for sports betting for two years. The Meadowlands will need to make only minor changes inside in order to introduce betting.

"I would say timeline-wise and stuff like that we should be able roll by the beginning of football season," said Jason Settlemoir, COO and general manager of Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment.

Middletown resident Dan Schlachter pointed out people are already placing bets through bookies, so why not help out taxpayers?

"I would definitely get involved," he told CBS2.

New Jersey is limiting locations for sports betting to casinos and racetracks, two hurting industries.

"Most people like to go where the action is," Lesniak said.

In New York, the new Resorts World Catskills casino has pre-wired it's sports bar, so it can essentially flip a switch and turn it into a "sports book." It will still need the OK from New York state regulators to proceed.

You will eventually be able to bet online, but for now it's limited to only in-person and you must be 21.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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