The US Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for states to legalize gambling on baseball, basketball, American football and other sports -- a business worth tens of billions of dollars annually.
The nation's top court ruled 6-3 in favor of New Jersey, the eastern state that has lobbied for years for the right to allow sports betting.
The court declared unconstitutional a 1992 federal law which banned wagering on professional and university sports except in four states where the market was already in place -- Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
Congress had enacted the legislation -- championed by then US senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat and former star basketball player for the New York Knicks -- on the grounds that gambling would threaten the integrity of sporting events.
In its opinion, the high court said the US Congress reserves the right to regulate sports gambling directly, "but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own."
The ruling, which eliminates Nevada's near-stranglehold on sports betting in the United States, is expected to lead to a rush by state legislatures to authorize sports wagering in a bid to reap tax revenue.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who had fought the law on behalf of the state's down-on-their-luck casinos in Atlantic City, welcomed the ruling.
"A great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions," Christie said. "New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal Gov't had no right to tell them no."
- Companies line up for action -
Two leading fantasy sports companies -- FanDuel and DraftKings -- immediately announced plans to branch out into sports wagering.
"In the same way we revolutionized fantasy sports, we will bring innovation to the sports betting space," FanDuel said in a statement.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said his company plans to "provide our customers with innovative online sports betting products.
"Today's Supreme Court ruling is welcome news to the millions of Americans who currently wager $150 billion illegally each year through off-shore, black market bookies," Robins said.
"States are now free to allow their residents to place mobile sports bets with licensed, trusted companies based in the US and that pay taxes here."
British bookmaker William Hill, which already takes bets in Nevada, said it also hoped to get in on the action.
"We've been working towards this day for a long time and take great satisfaction in the Supreme Court's decision," it said in a statement.
"We look forward to working to make legal and regulated sports betting a big winner for consumers, state governments and all interested parties across the country," William Hill said.
- MLB wary -
Major League Baseball (MLB), which along with other professional sports leagues had opposed changing the law, said the ruling would have "profound effects."
"Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games," MLB said in a statement.
"We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operations and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal."
Baseball was rocked by its worst ever scandal in 1919 when eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of taking money from gamblers to lose the World Series.
The players involved in the infamous "Black Sox Scandal," including star outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, were permanently banned from baseball.
MLB's all-time hits leader Pete Rose remains banned from baseball for gambling on games while he was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
Real estate tycoon and now US President Donald Trump was among those who fought against the sports betting ban when he was seeking to save his hotels and casinos in Atlantic City from financial ruin.
A woman plays the slot machine in a near empty casino in Atlantic City, where the closure of some casinos in recent years contributed to a sharp fall in tax revenue
Leading fantasy sports companies FanDuel and DraftKings, whose website is seen here in 2015, immediately announced plans to branch out into sports wagering after the Supreme Court's ruling
Major League Baseball warned that the legalization of sports betting could have 'profound effects' on the game