WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday morning in a seminal case that will decide the immediate future of American sports betting.
The case, matching New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie versus the NCAA, NFL and other major professional leagues, is centered on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting.
PASPA prohibits legal sports betting in all but a handful of states, with only Nevada allowed to offer wagering on single games, the most popular form.
A decision in the case, Governor Christopher J. Christie, et al. v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, et al., is expected to be released in the first half of 2018, by the end of June at the latest.
A New Jersey win would allow the state's racetracks and casinos to begin offering sports betting and potentially lay the groundwork for other states.
Twenty states signed on in support of New Jersey in the case, and Connecticut, Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania have already passed legislation that would allow them to get in the game if the federal ban is lifted.
A packed courtroom watched Ted Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general representing New Jersey, argue that PASPA commandeers the commandeers the state to maintain its prohibition on sports betting.
"This is the fear of every governor, that we'll be at the mercy of the federal government and that they'll make us pay for it," Christie said after the hearing. "It's not right."
Sports league attorney Paul Clement claimed that New Jersey is allowed to repeal its prohibitions on sports betting and therefore is not commandeered by the federal government.
Current U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Jeff Wall represented the Department of Justice on the side of the sports leagues and said states could comply with PASPA by complete repeal of their statutes on sports betting.
Chief Justice John Roberts asked Wall if, in that scenario, a child could enter a casino and gamble.
"Well, is that serious?" Roberts said. "You have no problem if there's no prohibition at all and anybody can engage in any kind of gambling they want, a 12-year-old can come into the casino and -- you're not serious about that."
The sports leagues have long maintained that expanding legal sports betting in the U.S. would threaten the integrity of their games. They sued New Jersey in 2012, sparking a five-year legal saga that finally reached the Supreme Court on Monday.
Since the initial suit, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has come out in support of regulating sports betting, and the NFL and NHL have approved the relocation of franchises to Las Vegas, where sports betting is legal.
"I've always been willing to talk to the sports leagues [about sports betting]," Christie said. "The sports leagues never have been willing to talk to me. They thought they were going to get rid of us a long time ago. They never met me. They have now."
The NFL and Major League Baseball declined to comment after today's arguments when reached by ESPN.
"The NBA prefers a comprehensive federal approach to legalized sports betting, as opposed to a hodgepodge of state by state laws that would create conflicting rules and regulations, customer confusion, and difficulties in enforcement," NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN.
Opponents of gambling expansion believe legalization will cause social harms, including addiction.
The American Gaming Association says more than $150 billion is bet on sports annually in the U.S., but estimates vary widely.
According to a 2017 poll conducted by The Washington Post and University of Massachusetts Lowell, 56 percent of Americans approve of legalizing betting on pro sports.
"We're going to do well," Christie predicted.
Shortly after the oral arguments, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., announced that he would introduce a bill on Monday that aims to repeal the federal ban on sports betting.
Pallone's bill, the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act or GAME Act, would allow states to legalize sports betting and online gambling, if appropriate consumer protections are in place.
"Today's argument before the Supreme Court showed there is a serious question as to whether PASPA violates the Constitution and whether New Jersey even violated PASPA in the first place," Pallone said in a statement. "It is clear to me that PASPA is unconstitutional. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will decide in New Jersey's favor, and the GAME Act provides the necessary legal framework for states to move forward."