New Jersey’s quest for legal sports betting is now in the hands of US District Court Judge Michael Shipp after the state and its opponents filed their respective briefs this week. On Tuesday, the four pro sports leagues and the NCAA filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to block the Monmouth Park racetrack’s plan to begin offering NFL wagers this Sunday (26). On Wednesday, the state and its allies filed their response brief and Thursday brought the leagues’ final missive before Shipp decides whether to grant the TRO or whether to allow both parties to present oral arguments… again.
In Wednesday’s filing, acting Attorney General John Hoffman accused the NFL et al of moving the goalposts. In the long legal fight over the state’s previous sports betting legislation, the leagues had conceded that a state which repealed its local sports betting prohibitions wouldn’t contravene the federal PASPA betting prohibition.
New Jersey swiftly passed legislation to repeal anti-sports betting laws at Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks, which would allow betting at these locations without the state explicitly authorizing or regulating the activity. The state argues that PASPA either allows states to repeal their prohibitions or it unconstitutionally commandeers states’ authority by forcing them to “maintain unwanted prohibitions.” The state says the leagues simply “cannot have it both ways.”
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
The filing by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association similarly accuses the leagues of attempting to “reverse their prior positions” to suit their purposes. The horsemen also note that Monmouth agreed to a 45-day moratorium in launching its William Hill-powered sportsbook “as a courtesy to give the leagues adequate time to assert their legal positions,” yet the leagues waited until “the last minute” of this 45-day window to seek their TRO.
Should the TRO be granted and the legal case drag on for another interminable period, Monmouth officials want the leagues to put up a bond of $1.1m per week – the amount of revenue the track believes it will give up by delaying its sportsbook launch. Monmouth says it’s expecting up to 10k visitors on Sunday if betting is available and claimed it would be the party to suffer ‘irreparable harm’ should the TRO be granted.
STATE POLS CAN SPLIT HAIRS WITH THE BEST OF THEM
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto filed their own brief in support of the state’s plans. The leagues had argued that New Jersey faced a binary choice: maintaining the total ban on sports betting or “accepting its complete deregulation,” i.e. opening the door to back-of-the-bar bookies named Vinnie plying their trade in elementary school playgrounds.
Sweeney and Prieto note that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold the 2013 injunction against New Jersey’s original sports betting law stated that “it is up to the state to decide .. .what the exact contours of the prohibition will be.” Sweeney and Prieto insist that the state’s new law “created several areas in New Jersey where sports wagering is neither banned nor subject to any State rules governing the activity.”
WHY WON’T YOU DIE, ALREADY?
On Thursday, the leagues fought back, calling the state and its allies “belligerent” for making their “brazen announcement of an intent to violate federal law beginning this Sunday.” The leagues say the TRO is warranted to maintain the status quo until a full hearing of the matter can be conducted. The leagues continue to insist that the state’s geographically selective laissez-faire plan contradicts its own constitution, which prohibits gambling not explicitly condoned by the state.
Shipp is expected to render his decision on Friday. Most observers believe Shipp will grant the TRO application, if only because his 2013 injunction had declared that the leagues would indeed suffer irreparable harm should New Jersey betting commence in earnest. The leagues have also asked for a preliminary injunction, which Shipp will likely consider next month.
PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS
On the plus side, Major League Eating (MLE) has announced it would gladly accept wagering on the outcome of its competitive eating contests, which include the famed Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. On Tuesday, MLE president Richard Shea issued a statement supporting New Jersey’s right to bet, saying ‘if New Jersey can profit from the popularity of eating, more power to them.”
Shea goes on to say that the MLE – “the governing body of stomach-centric sport” – would ordinarily “march in lockstep with our peers in professional sports,” but the MLE hadn’t been asked to join the suit. Shea noted that the other leagues have “long been very clique-ie like that.” Shea suggested that the NFL et al “harbor an animus toward New Jersey … [they] fear competition and … desire anything but a level playing field,” whereas the MLE “does not shy away from competition.” Is it too late to send a pack of ballpark franks to Judge Shipp?