As promised, New Jersey has taken its fight for legal sports betting all the way to the US Supreme Court. Two years ago last month, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that would allow Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks to offer Nevada-style single-game sports wagering. This move was promptly challenged by the four major pro sports leagues, the NCAA and the US Department of Justice. The ‘no’ side prevailed in a federal court last March, a ruling upheld by a federal appeals court in September, but Christie vowed to continue the fight to the bitter end. And here we are.
New Jersey’s appeal was filed last Wednesday by the legal eagles representing the state, including hotshot constitutional lawyer Theodore Olson. The gist of Olson’s appeal will be familiar to anyone who’s followed this case, primarily revolving around the issues of whether (a) the federal PASPA sports betting prohibition amounts to commandeering states’ authority to make decisions that best meet the needs of their residents, and (b) Nevada’s exemption from the prohibition violates the principle of equal sovereignty.
Olson continues to argue that while PASPA doesn’t compel states (not named Nevada) to do anything more than maintain the status quo, Congress cannot effectively tell a state how to act simply by framing its desire to do so as a prohibition. And while Congress has the authority to regulate interstate commerce, Congress has declined to enact any regulation of sports betting, therefore it “has no authority to regulate the approval or disapproval expressed by the states.”
The response briefs from the leagues/DOJ are due by March 17. New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a key proponent of gambling legislation in the Garden State, told the Star-Ledger that the Supremes won’t likely announce whether or not they’ll hear the appeal until June. Lesniak believes there’s only a 10% chance of the state winning that bet but suggested the fact that this case involves “social issues that have been on the front burner” of the Court’s docket in recent years might work in New Jersey’s favor. Lesniak also noted that of the appeals the Supremes do agree to hear, “they overturn 60%.”
In January, Lesniak told BettingTalk.com’s David Purdum that the sports leagues knew their objections to betting were hypocritical and amounted to “playing out the string, until they can get a piece of the action.” Lesniak drew a parallel between New Jersey’s fight against PASPA and Colorado and Washington’s legalization of marijuana, which amounted to “openly violating an archaic federal law.” Lesniak noted that when it came to pot, the DOJ was “standing on the sidelines … allowing the states to make their own decisions to the best interest of the residents.” Lesniak had no answers as to why the DOJ wasn’t taking a similar stance regarding sports betting.