Come on Maryland, Legalize Sports Betting Already!

*Samson Nabozny

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) to prohibit individual states from legalizing sports gambling, except Nevada due to a grandfathering provision.  See Pete Blackburn, Supreme Court Lets States Legalize Sports Betting, Rules Federal Ban Unconstitutional, CBS Sports (May 14, 2018, 2:39 PM),  Until 2012, Nevada was the only state where sports and gambling fans could wager on the results and statistics of individual sports games.  See id.  However, that changed when former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ignored PAPSA and legalized sports betting.  See id.  Alleging that the legalization of sports gambling in New Jersey violated PAPSA, the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues sued in federal court.  See id.

In support of their position that the New Jersey law violated PAPSA, opponents of sports gambling argued that sports gambling is wildly addictive, especially to younger individuals with a strong interest in sports.  See Murphy v. NCAA, 138 S. Ct. 1461, 1469–70 (2018).  Professional sports leagues added that sports betting has led to major controversies within the leagues and has corrupted their reputations in the past.  See id.  In December of 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the controversy and analyze the constitutionality of PAPSA.  See generally id.  Writing for the 6–3 majority, Justice Alito stated that Congress does not have plenary legislative power; rather, it possesses only certain enumerated powers.  See id. at 1476–78.  Justice Alito also pointed to the Tenth Amendment, which states that the powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the states.  See U.S. Const. amend. X; see also Murphy, 138 S. Ct. at 1476–78.  Therefore, PAPSA is unconstitutional because Congress’s management of the states’ conduct relating to sports gambling falls outside of Congress’s enumerated powers.  See Murphy, 138 S. Ct. at 1476–78.  Justice Alito announced that “[a] more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine,” and states are allowed to decide on their own if sports betting should be legal within their state.  Id. at 1476, 1478.

After New Jersey legalized sports gambling in 2012, twenty-one other states and the District of Columbia passed legislation to legalize sports gambling.  See Interactive Map: Sports Betting in the U.S., Am. Gaming Ass’n, (last updated Mar. 16, 2020).  Including Nevada and New Jersey, sports gambling is already active in seventeen states.  See id.  Additionally, six other states are placing sports gambling on the ballot in 2020 and twenty-one other states, including Maryland, have proposed sports gambling legislation.  See id.

During the 2019 legislative term, Maryland attempted to pass legislation legalizing sports gambling, but for the second consecutive year was unable to do so and tabled the discussion for 2020.  See Adam Candee, Better Luck Next Year for Maryland Sports Betting After AG Opinion Slows Plans, Legal Sports Rep. (Mar. 15, 2019, 3:15 PM),  The situation got even worse for Maryland when Attorney General Brian Frosh opined that the decision to legalize sports gambling would have to go to the Maryland voters through the ballot.  See id.  Maryland legislators hoped to bypass the ballot requirement by the use of a 1972 referendum, but Attorney General Frosh’s opinion repressed that attempt and created a major setback for Maryland legislators.  See id.  Now, 2021 is the earliest that sports gambling could become legal, and that is only if Maryland voters approve it.  See id.  If not, legalized sports gambling would have to wait until the 2022 election, which means it would not become operational until 2023 at the earliest.  See id.  This would put Maryland at a major economic disadvantage to its surrounding states because of the lost opportunity for a new source of revenue.  See generally id.

Opponents may argue, as the professional sports leagues did, that sports gambling would be detrimental to Maryland and lead to a multitude of problems caused by people becoming addicted to sports gambling.  Murphy v. NCAA, 138 S. Ct. 1461, 1469 (2018).  These opponents suggest that Maryland should “take the moral high ground” and prohibit sports gambling.  See id.  However, these opponents ignore the fact that online and in-person bookmakers of sports betting have been very widespread even before it was legal, as well as in wagers between friends and family.  See Jeff Barker, Maryland Legislative Leaders Exploring Fast-Track Plan to Legalize Sports Betting Without Asking Voters, Balt. Sun (Jan. 17, 2019, 5:00 AM),  Additionally, Maryland is not preventing its residents from gambling because avid gamblers do not have to travel far to find legal sports betting—the District of Columbia and states in very close proximity to Maryland including Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have already legalized sports betting.  See Interactive Map: Sports Betting in the U.S., supra.  Thus, the failure to legalize sports gambling does not preclude Maryland from the alleged societal harms related to addicted residents.  See generally Casinos & Communities: Maryland, Am. Gaming Ass’n, (last visited Mar. 6, 2020).  However, it does preclude the State from enjoying the vast economic benefits it could gain from legalization.  See generally id.

Maryland already has multiple casinos.  See id.  Research shows that the casino’s financial and social impact on the State has been positive.  See id.  A report by the American Gaming Association (AGA) determined that the six commercial casinos and racinos—a combined racetrack and casino­—operating in Maryland generate almost $1 billion in tax revenue and $3 billion in total economic impact annually.  See id.  Much of the tax dollars are being spent on education and the casinos have contributed $3 billion to Maryland’s Education Trust Fund since 2010.  See id.  Additionally, the casinos have supported over fifteen thousand jobs, which created over $713 million in wages.  See id.  Lastly, the AGA’s report found that gamblers are generally betting responsibly, as 90% of gamblers set a budget prior to entering a casino, and 90% of those individuals track their spending.  See id.  There is no evidence to support the assertion that those numbers would be any different with sports gambling, and the potential positive economic impact on the State could be huge.  See generally id.

Every day that Maryland continues to operate without sports gambling is another missed opportunity for state revenue that could be used to invest in the betterment of the State’s educational system and the State as a whole.  See generally id.

*Samson R. Nabozny is a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore, where he serves as a staff editor for Law Review.  Samson is also a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society.  Currently, Samson works as a law clerk at Storzer and Associates, P.C.


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