The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear New Jersey's appeal in the state's long-running quest to offer legalized sports betting. The ruling breaks a string of courtroom losses for New Jersey, dating back to 2012.
The five major sports leagues -- the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball -- that sued New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the state's plan had urged the Supreme Court to decline review in the case. In reviewing applications for hearings, at least four of the nine Supreme Court justices normally must agree to take the case.
"The case started the conversation in earnest about sports betting in the United States," said Marc Dunbar, a gaming attorney and partner in the Jones Walker law firm who has followed the case closely.
Now the legal dispute could result in a dramatic change in how the nation approaches sports gambling. The sports betting landscape in the U.S. has evolved significantly during nearly five years of litigation between Christie and the sports leagues.
With the case now at the Supreme Court for full review, ESPN examines how we got to this point and answers other key questions moving forward.
What started this legal saga?
In November 2011, New Jersey voters passed a statewide referendum by nearly a 2-1 margin in support of legal sports betting throughout the state. Christie signed follow-up legislation in January 2012, and that spring, New Jersey gaming officials put forth regulations for state-sponsored sportsbooks. Soon thereafter, the NCAA, NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball sued to stop New Jersey under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a federal law that restricts legal sports betting to Nevada and a small number of other states. New Jersey had lost every step of the way in this legal battle and was considered an underdog to have its case heard by the high court.
What's next for this case?
The case will proceed in three steps.
First, a hearing in Washington, D.C., known as an "oral argument," will likely be scheduled for late 2017 or early 2018. Second, both sides will spend the next several months filing briefs to make their arguments about whether the PASPA can permissibly restrict legal sports betting to Nevada and a small number of other states.
Finally, a decision in the case will probably be rendered no later than June 2018.
Agreeing to hear the case does not mean New Jersey will ultimately win the case: The state must still earn the vote of at least five of the Supreme Court justices to prevail.
The Supreme Court has never previously issued a decision about whether PASPA can limit sports gambling to certain states. Until now, lower courts have consistently ruled against New Jersey.
What's next for other states that have shown interest in sports betting?
Other states followed the New Jersey court case from the sidelines and are now lining up with sports wagering legislation to be ready if the legal landscape changes and expanded sports wagering becomes a reality. Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and West Virginia have introduced some form of sports betting legislation in the first half of 2017.
Will Congress get more involved now?
Forty years ago, a Congressional report predicted the current sports gambling situation.
"Legalized sports wagering should be subject to extensive debate to allow the voting public to form an educated opinion," wrote lawmakers in a January 1977 House Committee final report.
In 2015, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona agreed, calling for Congressional hearings on the topic.
Earlier this year, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey proposed new legislation to comprehensively address sports betting and raised the possibility of a hearing in late 2017.
"It's time to recognize that the laws are outdated," Pallone said in announcing the proposal.
If expanded legal sports betting is indeed "inevitable," Congress probably would be involved in some capacity. Repeated courtroom challenges might not be enough.
"The New Jersey sports betting case may ultimately be a footnote in the eventual legalization of sports gambling in the United States," said Gabe Feldman, a Tulane law professor and director of Tulane's sports law program. "The best long-term solution for supporters of legalized sports gambling is likely a broad-based effort to repeal PASPA and introduce a highly regulated system of sports gambling with the support of the professional sports leagues."
The American Gaming Association (AGA) also formed a broad coalition earlier this month to actively lobby Capitol Hill on the issue.
"Regulated sports betting is what fans want and sports integrity demands," the AGA's Geoff Freeman said in a news release announcing the move.
What has President Trump, a former casino owner, said about legalizing sports betting?
As a New Jersey casino owner in the 1990s, Trump advocated for legalizing sports betting, but his current administration has released mixed messages on the subject.
In an interview with NBC Sports before the Super Bowl, Trump said that if confronted with legalization, he would want to sit down with the sports leagues' commissioners.
"[I] would certainly want to get their input and get the input from the various leagues, and we'll see how they feel about it. I'd also get the input from lots of law enforcement officials, because, obviously, that's a big step," Trump said.
"So we wouldn't do it lightly, I can tell you. It will be studied very carefully. But I would want to have a lot of input from a lot of different people."
But other members of the Trump administration, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have taken anti-gambling positions. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall weighed in on New Jersey's appeal, advising the Supreme Court to pass on the case.
Christie, a Trump supporter, said recently on CBS radio that he believed the administration was against gambling.
How has the sports gambling landscape and the leagues' stances changed since the New Jersey case started in 2012?
There have been a number of shifts since the New Jersey sports betting litigation started in August 2012. A few examples:
▪ Both the NFL and NHL have decided to move teams to Las Vegas, the epicenter of legal sports betting in the U.S.
▪ In November 2014, NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote a New York Times op-ed calling for a "federal framework" to legalize sports betting. Silver has said the NBA remained a plaintiff in the New Jersey case because it believes a federal framework would be more prudent than a patchwork of state-by-state regulations. Major League Baseball has begun to align itself with the NBA's position. The NCAA and NFL, however, remain publicly opposed to expanding legal sports betting in the U.S. The NHL has remained mostly quiet on the issue in recent years.
▪ At the same time, sports leagues are increasingly partnering with data-dissemination firms for gambling purposes overseas and line monitoring integrity deals.
▪ Individual team owners -- as well as leagues such as the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball -- have invested in daily fantasy companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel.
But is any of this enough to move sports leagues away from using PASPA to shut down further expansion of state-sponsored sports betting?
Experts point toward money as the answer.
"The leagues have definitely evolved their views and are embracing the opportunities as sports betting presents a new and robust revenue stream," Dunbar said.
It might take some time, however.
"Unless and until there's an economic imperative for the professional sports leagues to get behind sports betting -- and I mean more than just words -- it won't happen," said Kate Lowenhar-Fisher, a gaming industry attorney with Dickinson Wright in Las Vegas. "The illegal sports betting market is huge, and I doubt that the widespread legal betting market would bring in millions of new viewers.
"People who like to bet on sports already do."