New Jersey lawmakers on Oct. 2 took up a measure that they and Gov. Chris Christie hope will finally allow the state’s casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting. The committee’s passage is the latest move in the ongoing fight between the state and the sports leagues over sports betting. Christie and legislators are banking on the idea that legalized sports betting, combined with online gambling, will help revive struggling and, in some cases, closing, Atlantic City, N.J., casinos, and boost racetrack attendance.
In a 7-0 vote, the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee recommended passage of a bill, A-3711, that would repeal all statutory prohibitions on sports betting. The legislation is likely to be passed by both the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Christie. The nation’s four largest professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), however, already are challenging the legislation in federal court, and the Christie administration also is taking action, even before the measure is enacted.
The state is moving to legalize sports betting despite rulings from two federal courts that earlier said attempts by the Legislature and New Jersey voters ran afoul of the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which the leagues said outlawed sports betting in all states except for Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
While upholding PASPA as an appropriate exercise of Congressional authority, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in NCAA v. New Jersey, said it did not read PASPA “to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering.”
Christie last month issued a directive allowing sports betting at casinos and race tracks after acting Attorney General John Hoffman, in a formal opinion, directed law enforcement to not prosecute casinos or racetracks if they operate sports-wagering pools.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear New Jersey’s appeal of the Third Circuit’s ruling, but both Christie and legislators pointed to language used by the U.S. Solicitor General in its briefs to the court that said “PASPA does not even obligate New Jersey to leave in place the state-law prohibitions against sports gambling that it had chosen to adopt prior to PASPA’s enactment.”
The state, the federal government said, “is free to repeal those prohibitions in whole or in part.”
The legislation passed by the Assembly committee would do just that. Christie has also asked U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp for permission to begin sports betting based on the language used by the Third Circuit in its opinion and by the federal government in its briefs.
None of the leagues or the NCAA testified against the bill, but already have filed challenges with Shipp to stop any action by the state. The fight appears to continue.
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Martin Milita is a Senior Director providing public affairs services to Fortune 100 companies, privately-held firms and nonprofit organizations in the areas of legislative, executive branch and grass roots lobbying, business development, procurement, issues management and business-to-government outreach. As a New Jersey State Deputy Attorney General, he served as Chief of Tax Fraud and Chief of the Solid Waste Unit of the Antitrust Section of the Division of Criminal Justice. Martin Milita has a J.D. from Temple University School of Law and graduated from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.