As the Associated Press noted this weekend, 2011 is set to be a momentous one for New Jersey’s gambling sector. There’s the creation of the new state-run ‘tourism district’ in Atlantic City, resumption of work on the troubled Revel casino project and possibly ground being dug on two new mini-casinos of less than 200 hotel rooms. And of course, there’s the intrastate online casino & poker bill that the state legislature will have a final vote on this month.
Then there’s the state’s court challenge of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the 1992 federal prohibition against sports betting. The state legislature has already approved Bill SCR132, which calls for putting the sports betting question to New Jersey voters on a November ballot referendum. However, even if this referendum produces a ‘yes’ vote, it will mean nothing while the federal prohibition is still on the books. Hence the federal court challenge led by state Sen. Ray Lesniak and backed by the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA).
The last shot in this war was fired by iMEGA in October, when the pro-gambling body highlighted the Dept. of Justice’s hypocritical opposition to the challenge of a law the DoJ itself called unconstitutional before it was enacted. Now the DoJ has doubled down on its opposition to the challenge, having sent the judge overseeing the case a letter stating that iMEGA’s request to supplement the record with a copy of Bill SC132 is unwarranted. The DoJ also claims that SC132 is irrelevant because it “might give the State Legislature the power to possibly pass state laws related to sports betting,” something the DoJ believes is not within the state’s purview.
Furthermore, DoJ attorney Peter D. Leary went on the offensive by challenging the notion that iMEGA has standing in the case. This is familiar territory for iMEGA, who have long been arguing the issue of standing with the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its attempt to hijack 141 gambling-related domain names.
There’s an interesting side note to New Jersey’s sports betting challenge, as Gov. Chris Christie has already stated his office wants nothing to do with it. It probably doesn’t help that there’s no love lost between the state’s burly bully-boy guv and the chief legislator pushing the sports betting issue. Lesniak recently sniped at Christie for declining to interrupt his Disney World vacation while his home state was being buried under the worst blizzard in recent memory. In response, Christie said that people doing the “harping and complaining should just take a breath.”
New Jersey’s proactive moves toward online gaming fits well with our previous predictions as to how pro-gaming factions in the US will advance their cause on a state-by-state basis rather than at the federal level. But frankly, we think anyone attempting to change federal minds (and/or laws) on the issue of sports betting would do well to heed Christie’s advice and ‘take a breath.’ The feds have made plain their determination to fight this issue with every weapon at their disposal, and in this they have the full support of the major sports leagues, the NFL in particular.