HARTFORD, CT — Just days after the Connecticut General Assembly failed to pass legislation that would have allowed the state to legalize sports gambling, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to do just that.
In a decision released Monday, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”
Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992, prohibiting most states from enacting laws that legalize betting on sports. The law grandfathered Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon, all of which had already set up sports betting lotteries before PASPA passed.
New Jersey failed to legalize sports gaming within the one-year grace period following the passage of PASPA, and voters in 2011 passed an amendment to New Jersey’s constitution allowing it. The NCAA, along with the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL, obtained an injunction from a federal judge who found that New Jersey’s law violated 1992 act and the Garden State then took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 decision Monday, the high court found that states have the authority to legalize sports gaming in the absence of federal regulation.
“This landmark ruling provides states another tool with which they can continue to craft smart, tailored policies during a time of congressional gridlock in Washington,” the National Conference of State Legislatures said in a statement.
The ruling means at least 46 states could see new revenue from sports betting, if they decide to allow it, regulate it, and tax it.
In Connecticut, the legislature’s Public Safety Committee has jurisdiction over gaming.
Rep. Joe Verrengia, a West Hartford Democrat who chairs the committee, said Monday that he’s hoping they can schedule a special session to address the topic.
The bill that the Connecticut General Assembly failed to pass before adjourning last week would have cleared the way for the state to start negotiating with the two tribal nations, who have exclusivity over gaming in Connecticut. The bill, which had some star power behind it, didn’t get called for a vote in either chamber.
“We just ran out of time,” Verrengia said.
He said if the Supreme Court had ruled before the session ended he believes the General Assembly would have acted. Regardless, Verrengia said the state needs to take action quickly in order to remain competitive with other states who are also involved in the gaming industry.
“It’s about being competitive in the marketplace,” Verrengia said. “If Connecticut isn’t up and running and other states are, that’s going to hurt our gaming industry at a time we can’t afford that to happen with MGM opening up a Springfield casino in the next few months.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said a special session is already being discussed.
“Today’s court decision presents a potential opportunity for our state, one we have already started to prepare for, and a special session to enact legislation to get us going from a regulatory and operational standpoint would be an appropriate and prudent response,” Aresimowicz said Monday. “We have a bill ready to serve as a foundation that was worked on extensively this session in concert with many stakeholders including the NBA, MLB, the Tribes, OTB, and the Lottery. As a state where gaming is an important sector of our economy, we need to look ahead and be ready for what is coming and act to keep us competitive with other states.”
Aresimowicz has said legalized sports betting could bring in “$40 to $80 million a year” to cash-starved Connecticut. He noted that the state of Rhode Island included $23 million in sports betting revenue within in its next fiscal year budget, in anticipation of a favorable ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said his administration is reviewing the decision.
“In the coming days, I plan to deliberate with legislative leadership regarding the impact of this decision on the state,” Malloy said. “As of today, I am prepared to call the General Assembly into special session to consider legalizing sports betting in Connecticut. It is incumbent on us to consider the question of legalized sports betting in a thoughtful way that ensures our approach is responsible, smart, and fully realizes the economic potential that this opportunity provides.”
Attorney General George Jepsen, in an opinion released last month, said legalizing sports betting would not affect the existing gaming arrangements with the tribes.
“Sports betting is not listed as an authorized game,” Jepsen said. “By contrast, for example, pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing and jai alai games are authorized games. The exclusion of sports betting from the specific list of authorized games is compelling evidence that the Compacts do not presently authorize it.”
Currently, the state and the tribes have a compact in which the state receives 25 percent of slot revenue in exchange for exclusive casino rights. Verrengia said the legislation would have required the states to negotiate with the tribes and change the gaming Compacts.