The Supreme Court on Monday suggested that it may side with New Jersey in its bid to make sports gambling legal.
The court’s justices heard New Jersey’s challenge to a federal law that bans states from authorizing gambling in professional and college sports.
The case pits New Jersey and other states against America’s top four professional sports leagues, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the federal government.
The stakes are high, with the American Gaming Association (AGA) estimating that Americans illegally bet roughly $150 billion on sports annually.
The four leagues involved at the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB).
The organizations are claiming that striking down the law would hurt the integrity of their games.
The leadership of all four, however, have displayed varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling besides the NFL’s.
New Jersey contends that Congress overstepped its authority with a 1992 law that keeps states from authorizing sports betting.
The state argues that the Constitution lets Congress make wagering on sports illegal, but it cannot require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.
Over 12 states back New Jersey, and some justices on Monday seemed to suggest they would side with the state.
Justice Anthony Kennedy told Paul Clement, who was arguing for the sports leagues, that the law seemed like impermissible “commandeering.”
Kennedy said that such “commandeering” is compelling a state like New Jersey to take an action.
Other justices suggested an interest in avoiding striking down the federal law as unconstitutional even if they side with New Jersey.
Justice Neil Gorsuch told Ted Olson, who was arguing for New Jersey, that the Supreme Court normally interprets statues in a way to avoid a constitutional question if it can.
Congress gave New Jersey a year to authorize sports betting at its casinos upon passing the 1992 law, but the state did not do so.
New Jersey then decided to legalize sports betting two decades later, prompting the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA to sue.
The state lost in court, and it lost again in 2014 after it tried repealing laws barring sports gambling at casinos and racetracks.
A decision on New Jersey’s challenge to the federal law – the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – is expected by the end of June.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.