All eyes on Christie after New Jersey legislators approve sports betting bill

TAGs: chris christie, New Jersey, PASPA, Ray Lesniak, sports betting

chris-christie-all-eyesAs expected, the New Jersey state Assembly has approved the latest legislative attempt to bring legal sports betting to Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks. On Thursday, the Assembly voted 73-4 in favor of the A-3711 sports betting bill, which would repeal state laws prohibiting wagering at tracks and casinos. The state Senate approved their version of the bill on Tuesday by a margin of 25-1, requiring only Gov. Chris Christie’s signature for the bill’s provisions to take effect.

Christie has offered no indication as to his intentions, although the fact that he requested (and was granted) two amendments to the legislation before the votes suggests he’s at least taking it seriously. By law, he has 45 days in which to make up his mind. Christie vetoed a similar bill in August only to flip-flop one month later and decide sports betting was a goal worth pursuing after all. As for the current bill, a Christie spokesperson said only that the governor would be “taking a very close look at the legislation.”

State Sen. Ray Lesniak introduced this latest bill as a bid to shore up Christie’s quest to have US District Judge Michael Shipp clarify whether his 2013 injunction had invalidated only portions of the state’s original sports betting legislation. Christie’s argument is that the 2012 legislation had implicitly repealed state laws against betting, whereas Lesniak’s latest effort removes any trace of ambiguity by expressly eliminating those state laws (but only at tracks and casinos).

Shipp was scheduled to hear oral arguments from both New Jersey and its opponents – the Department of Justice and a gaggle of sports leagues – on Oct. 31 but this date has since been pushed back to Nov. 21. If Christie signed the bill, his request for clarity from Shipp would be redundant. Christie could also wait until after the hearing to sign the bill if Shipp were to rule against him.

Christie could also sign the bill immediately, which would allow the William Hill-powered sportsbook at Monmouth Park racetrack to start taking NFL wagers. The track’s operators have been chomping at the bit to unwrap their new toy but agreed to hold off to allow Christie’s quest to conclude. Track adviser Dennis Drazin now says the track wants to start taking wagers on Sunday, Oct. 26, one day after the original 45-day standstill period the track had agreed to following Christie’s flip-flop. But Drazin can’t act until Christie signs on the dotted line.

Drazin is aware that the DOJ/leagues would likely seek another temporary restraining order to block Monmouth from moving forward, much as they did back in 2012. But for that order to be granted, the leagues would have to demonstrate that they have a good shot at prevailing in the ensuing legal case. New Jersey’s latest legislative gambit is intended to pull the rug out from under their opponents’ legal arguments.

New Jersey’s latest bill was inspired by comments made by DOJ/league attorneys during the fight over the last bill. The attorneys had argued that the PASPA federal sports betting prohibition didn’t fall afoul of the US Constitution’s ‘commandeering’ edicts because there was nothing in PASPA that prevented a state from simply declining to enforce local anti-betting laws. New Jersey believes its current plan adheres to these guidelines.

Lesniak told ESPN’s David Purdum that he believes “the leagues’ end game is property rights.” Lesniak expects the leagues to sue to block Monmouth on the basis that betting involves their trademarked product and thus violates their property rights. European sports leagues have lobbied without success for similar ‘sports betting rights’ but Lesniak thinks such a scheme would allow the leagues’ sufficient PR cover to “get to the table and cut a deal.”

Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, suggested as much last month when he said the NBA would “ultimately participate” in legal sports betting, the spread of which across the US Silver dubbed “inevitable.” New Jersey pols have already proposed a 0.25% levy on all wagers that would go directly into the leagues’ pockets. Will that be enough, or has the real haggling yet to begin?


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