The Super Bowl and betting: Did you break the law this weekend?

Were you betting on the Super Bowl’s outcome? Unless you placed your bet with a licensed Nevada bookmaker, you have violated a federal statute.

Over 111.3. million people watched the Super Bowl this past Sunday. I’m sure that a large number of those viewers also made some sort of wager on the outcome of the game. But they probably didn’t know that unless they placed their bet with a licensed bookmaker in Nevada, they violated federal law.


Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), also known as the Bradley Act, outlawed sports betting nationwide except in licensed sports pools in Nevada, as well as sports lotteries held in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana (all states that had already legalized sports betting in their borders by 1992; today only Nevada supports betting). Under PASPA , however, jai alai (which to me looks a bit like racquetball) and pari-mutuel horse and dog racing are excluded.

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, commissioners from various sports leagues pushed the U.S. Congress to create a nationwide ban on sports gambling. At the time, many states were considering legalizing sports betting. The commissioners wanted to prevent such betting to protect the integrity of the game and prevent game fixing.

Senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), a former professional basket player, strong supported the bill, arguing that sports gambling is a “national problem” causing “moral erosion [that] cannot be limited geographically” and harms that are felt “beyond the borders of those States that sanction it.”

PASPA and betting today

It’s estimated that the illegal sports betting market is upwards of $400 billion,  which eclipses the legal sports wagering market at $4.2 billion a year.  States are understandably unhappy that a federal statute has prevented them from taking advantage of potential taxable revenue.

Some states claim PASPA should be repealed because it is unconstitutional. They argue that the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves to the states all rights not explicitly granted to the federal government, which should include gambling regulation.

Recently, New Jersey has filed lawsuits claiming PASPA is unconstitutional because it allows four states to offer sports betting while disallowing the remaining states, a clear majority. Verdicts in 2013 and 2016 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the federal statute, stating PASPA is indeed constitutional.  The 2013 case ended at the appellate court, but it was believed that the latter case would be before the U.S. Supreme Court this session. On January 17, 2017, however, the Court delayed a ruling on whether it would consider at the case, instead inviting the solicitor general to file a brief on behalf of the government.

In October 2016, former NBA Commissioner David Stern called for the repeal of PASPA, reversing his earlier position.

So perhaps you did break the law on Sunday, along with millions of other Americans, but you are in good company. Last year President Obama openly admitted to breaking the law, and President George W. Bush was known for making golf bets.