New Jersey files sports betting appeal; ESPN ditches betting subterfuge

espn-cover-alert-point-spreadAs expected, New Jersey is seeking to overturn the latest court ruling blocking its plans to offer legal sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NJTHA) filed papers protesting the state’s latest judicial setback. Last month, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling preventing the state from implementing its plan, and now the NJTHA wants a rehearing by the full Third Circuit bench.

The gist of the NJTHA’s appeal – and similar filings by Gov. Chris Christie and the state legislature – is that the recent 2-1 decision ran contrary to the same court’s 2-1 ruling in 2013, and thus it’s up to the entire Court to resolve the discrepancy.

Specifically, the initial ruling (Christie I) declared that the 1992 federal PASPA sports betting prohibition was constitutional because it prevented states from passing laws allowing sports betting, but permitted states to repeal their own sports betting bans. The state thought it had done the latter, but the most recent ruling (Christie II) declared that the state’s repeal of sports betting everywhere except casinos and tracks was a de facto authorization of sports betting.

NJTHA attorney Ron Riccio argued that the state’s 2014 law is invalid only if (a) PASPA is constitutional and (b) the 2014 law violates PASPA. Riccio points out that not a single one of the five judges who decided the two rulings had endorsed both of these positions, and thus a full hearing by the Court was warranted.

There are 12 active judges on the Third Circuit and New Jersey will have to convince a majority of them that its request has merit. The Court could decide whether or not to rehear the case as early as next month.

While New Jersey fights for its sports betting life, sports broadcaster ESPN has decided veiled references to betting are so 2014. On Friday, college football fans were surprised to see ESPN interrupting games to relay ‘Cover Alerts’ (example viewable below) in which the studio hosts would alert viewers when activity in another game had tipped the balance one way or the other in relation to the point spread.

For years, broadcasters had been forced to couch their gambling references in thinly disguised nods and winks that fooled no one as to their real intent. ESPN had apparently grown tired of this subterfuge, as the hosts of last weekend’s College GameDay program all cheerfully provided their picks for Saturday’s games against the spread.

College GameDay’s coordinating producer Lee Fitting told that “fans are very interested in this type of talk.” Fitting said betting info was “good in doses, not overload” and the plan is to provide gambling stats that also have value for non-gamblers. Fitting didn’t see the change as “earth shattering one way or the other, but I do think we really engaged viewers who like that type of conversation.”

Not everyone views the changes as positive. Bob Bowlsby, commissioner of the NCAA’s Big 12 Conference, told USA Today that he was “quite sure” that the rest of the Conference’s presidents and athletic directors “feel as I do that [the betting talk is] inappropriate.”

While ESPN’s point spread references have to do with real-money betting, several athletic directors suggested ESPN’s new stance with the network’s business dealings with daily fantasy sports operators. Bowlsby said the Big 12 had been “wrestling with all the issues around DraftKings and FanDuel, which I don’t think anybody can suggest isn’t gambling.”

Understandably leery of potential pushback from the hypersensitive NCAA – one of New Jersey’s sports betting opponents – Fitting said the betting talk would be done in “a smart, well-thought out manner” that serves both gamblers and non-gamblers. Fitting said the broadcaster’s job was to “understand who our viewers are, and we are trying to cater to them.” Come back, Jimmy the Greek … all is forgiven. (All except for that whole wack slavery speech, that is.)