What is PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act?

Is betting legal in your state? Are you surprised that news about sports betting always seems to be in the news these days? Well, that’s because of PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which was the law of the land in the US until May 14, 2018.

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PASPA was enacted in 1992 in response to public hearings held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks. The 1991 hearings found that there was a significant outcry to ban sports betting on a federal level, drawing a solid red line directly to the enactment of PASPA a year later.

It’s no coincidence that the Baseball Hall of Fame decided in 1991 to ban anyone on the MLB’s “permanent ineligibility” list from being inducted, which itself was sparked by the Pete Rose gambling controversy. 

Why Was PASPA Enacted? 

The Pete Rose controversy was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back, but numerous betting scandals rocked the worlds of professional and amateur sports, including some big ones: 

  • 1951, CCNY point-shaving scandal: a Manhattan-area college's 6'8" center reports being asked to shave points off an upcoming game, which leads to arrests and scandals across the country. 32 players from teams all across the country are convicted of conspiring to shave points off games.
  • 1978-9, Boston College conspires with the Mob: The famous wig shop scene in Goodfellas depicts Morrie, a wig salesman "shaving points" off the "vig" before he is unceremoniously choked out by Robert DeNiro's character. This references a real-life scenario from the late 70s when Boston College players were strong-armed into not covering the spread by small-time members of the infamous Lucchesi crime syndicate.
  • 2006, Operation Slapshot: New Jersey police crack down on a local gambling ring which quickly becomes a crackdown on a nationwide gambling ring, mainly focusing on the NHL.

The list goes on: the page for “match-fixing incidents” on Wikipedia will weaken your scrolling finger. Most of these scandals involved “point shaving”, wherein a player or team agrees to underperform in order to not cover the spread.

Grandfathered In

Delaware, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana maintained some form of legal sports betting (particularly at books in Las Vegas) because they had already ratified betting in their respective state constitutions, but the rest of the country was barred from offering any kind of sports betting. PASPA itself addressed numerous forms of gambling, but only put the ban hammer on sports:

  1. Professional sports
  2. Collegiate sports
  3. Other forms of betting such as horse racing, casino gambling (exempted from PASPA)

Why Was PASPA Overturned?


To put it simply: PASPA was overturned because it didn’t work. It turns out we didn’t learn our lesson during the Prohibition Era, and sports betting never went away with the advent of PASPA, it just went underground. By the 2010s, numerous legislators across the country (from Rhode Island, Missouri, and importantly, New Jersey) were calling for the repeal of PASPA, as they felt it was better to internally regulate and tax betting rather than try to ban it outright.

Come 2018, then-Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey was successful in filing suit against the NCAA to offer in-person sports betting in the state, which would have violated PASPA. Efforts continued to be successful, and by the end of 2018, sportsbooks started to pop up in previously restricted states. 

Today’s Sports Betting Landscape 

Pete Rose still ain’t in the HoF, even though the federal government voted to overturn PASPA in May 2018, making the legality of sports betting something that state legislatures could vote on.

Now a states’ rights issue, the Tenth Amendment was cited as the main reason for PASPA’s overturning. For a refresher:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Tenth Amendment, US Constitution

Sports betting is no longer banned on a federal level. Each state has the opportunity to legislate, regulate, and tax online and in-person sports betting if they can get a bill passed, and a growing number of states continue to do so thanks to the repeal of PASPA.

Learn more about legal sports betting here.

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