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What is PASPA? The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act Explained

Legal US sportsbook.

If you’ve heard us refer to the term PASPA when discussing US sports betting but don’t know what it means, we’re here to help. In the following few paragraphs, we’re not only going to answer the question “what is PASPA,” but explain how its shaped today’s US sportsbook scene.

What is PASPA?

Otherwise known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act or the Bradley Act, PASPA was a federal law that came into force back in 1992. Like all laws, the reasons behind PASPA are numerous and, most likely, never fully disclosed. However, a public statement by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks essentially claimed that sports betting was a social blight.

“Sports gambling is a national problem. The harms it inflicts are felt beyond the borders of those States that sanction it,” reads the 1991 subcommittee conclusion.

With a clear aim to outlaw sports betting across virtually all parts of the US, Congress invoked its authority under the Commerce Clause to enact PASPA. The bill was eventually signed into law by President George H. Bush and, subsequently, made sports betting illegal in the US.

When a ban on sports betting isn’t a ban on sports betting

However, despite the previous assertion that betting on sports was a national problem, four states retained the right to accept wagers. Under clause that allowed regions with casinos active for more than a decade to offer sports wagers, Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana were allowed to host sportsbooks.

In the cases of Oregon, Delaware and Montana, only pool betting was permitted. In Nevada, full sports betting (i.e. single wagers, not only lottery pools) were allowed. Therefore, even though PASPA is regarded as a bill that ended legal sports betting in the US, that doesn’t tell the whole story. What’s more, it’s this dynamic that opened the door to legal challenges and, eventually, the law’s downfall.

Legal Challenges to PASPA

Supreme Court
Supreme Court judges strike down PASPA. (Image: UpstateNYer)

Having missed its opportunity to offers sports betting under the terms of PASPA, New Jersey took a stand. In 2011, Garden State voters supported a motion to amend the New Jersey Constitution and legalize sports betting. The local Legislature carried out the will of the people in 2012 and the New Jersey Sports Wagering Act of 2012 was written into law.

With federal and state laws at loggerheads, a battle ensued. Pursuing the issue, New Jersey claimed its Tenth Amendment rights and mounted a series of legal challenges. An initial court case between New Jersey and US sports organizations supporting PASPA went in favor of the latter. In 2014, an appeal was rejected.

Christie continues his betting battle

Undeterred, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed another bill designed to make sports betting legal within his state. The leagues once again opposed the move and started a two-year fight that would see New Jersey lose twice more before emerging victorious.

After reviewing the evidence, the Supreme Court decides to hear New Jersey’s case in 2017. The first hearing took place in December 2017 before a series of additional sessions ran at the start of 2018. Eventually, after considering the case in its entirety, the Supreme Court ruled that PASPA was unconstitutional.

The basis for the verdict was that a federal law was limiting states’ rights. Because New Jersey voters and lawmakers had moved to enact a sports betting law, the Tenth Amendment says they should have that right. However, with PASPA blocking the way, something had to give.

PASPA downfall opens up US sports betting industry

Gov. Chris Christie takes the fight to PASPA. (Image: Flickr)

By ruling in favor of New Jersey, the Supreme Court was maintaining a fundamental aspect of the US constitution. That move opened the door to legal sports betting in the US. Today, if a state votes to enact its own laws, PASPA can’t stand in its way. This has led to sweeping changes across the US, with multiple states either passing laws or considering them.

At present, you can currently bet on sports in the following regions:

Beyond the current crop of US sports betting states, other such as Oregon, Indiana and Massachusetts are on the verge of legalizing sportsbooks. Although it may take time for every state to embrace the current revolution, the likelihood is that almost every region will soon have live and online sports wagering.

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