US abolishes federal ban on sports betting: Is ‘acche din’ on the cards for India?

In what could be termed as a major announcement for sports fans, the US Supreme Court in a majority verdict in Murphy (Governor of New Jersey) versus National Collegiate Athletic Association abolished the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, 1992 (PASPA) on May 14.

PASPA was a federal legislation that prevented states from promoting, operating, licensing and authorizing sports betting.

Under the above-mentioned law, all but four US states were barred from permitting sports betting. The Supreme Court, on the basis of the violation of ‘anti-commandeering’ principle, ruled out the act.

The 49-page decision is the culmination of a five-year battle that cost the state of New Jersey upwards of $8 million.

According to media reports, apart from the state of New Jersey, ten or more other states are looking to immediately pass legislations to regulate, license and tax sports betting.

While it is great news for sports enthusiasts, it is still not a free and open market. The court did not address the following things:

  • The law did not legalize nationwide sports betting
  • It did not permit for anyone to open a sportsbook
  • It did not legalize sports bets to offshore accounts
  • It does not address daily fantasy sports

The historic decision of making changes in sports betting law is sure to have implications for the gaming industry, globally. However, it would be worthwhile to examine whether the directive would have any implications on the move to get sports betting legalized in India.

Is ‘acche din’ on the way for sports enthusiasts in India?

The Indian constitution is a quasi-federal one, where the centre has more power over the states.

The Indian constitution does not follow the strict federal model like the United States of America. Federalism is a system of government in which a written constitution divides power between a central government and regional or sub-divisional governments. Both types of government act directly upon the people through their officials and laws.

Thus, the anti-commandeering principle may not have much significance.

Under Entry 34 of the state list, it is clear that state legislatures have the power to regulate gambling and betting activities.  However, the parliament has the authority to exercise control on state subjects in the following scenarios.

  • If two or more state legislatures specifically request it to do so
  • In pursuance of an International treaties
  • If it is required to be done for a limited period of time in national interest

Apart from the aforementioned situations, the centre can intervene in the inter-state trade and commerce (entry 42) and/or communication (entry 31) to regulate online sports betting.

Further, unlike the American constitution, the subjects which the parliament and state legislatures can regulate are well enumerated in the seventh schedule of the Indian constitution.

The Law Commission of India had been examining the issue for over a year and a half now. Earlier, a petition was also filed by Geeta Rani a year ago before the apex court, which urges to issue directions to the central and state governments to regulate sports betting.

The US court decision might boost the case in Indian counterparts. However, owing to various socio-economic conditions of India, people have to wait before the government can legalize sports betting in the country.

Amid the path breaking decision by the US Supreme Court, sports betting legalization still remains an unfinished task in India.

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