NJ Sports Wagering: Judiciary Passes the Ball to Federal Legislature

By Alex S. Weiner, Esq.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is leading the fight to repeal PASPA and legalize sports betting (Courtesy: AP).

And so continues the saga of New Jersey’s Sports Wagering Law.[1]

The State of New Jersey and intervening defendant New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Inc. have filed to appeal the February 28, 2013 decision[2] of the federal district court in New Jersey that struck down the Sports Wagering Law – passed by the NJ legislature to bring sports betting on college and professional sports to Atlantic City casinos – as a violation of Congress’ infamous 1992 legislation entitled the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

The district court ruled that PASPA, which prohibits state-sponsored sports gambling except in the states that already permitted such activity (Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon), does not violate the Constitution.  The Court was comprehensive and frank in cutting down all arguments by the State of New Jersey and its supporting cast that PASPA is unconstitutional for violating the Commerce Clause, the Tenth Amendment, the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Principles, and the “Equal Footing” Doctrine, not to mention various “policy” concerns.

The decision came as little surprise in light of previous challenges to PASPA, but even less surprising is the appeal.  The efforts by NJ Governor Chris Christie and the various officials associated with the NJ gaming and racing commissions are certainly admirable, especially in response to an Atlantic City entertainment scene that is finding it more and more difficult to differentiate itself amid casinos springing up in surrounding states and nationwide.  That being said, it would seem that the United States judicial system is not the proper avenue for relief, leaving Mr. Christie and bet-placers such as myself with only one viable option … Congress.

In fact, Judge Shipp said as much in this most recent opinion, stating that “to the extent the people of New Jersey disagree with PASPA, their remedy is not through passage of a state law or through the judiciary, but through the repeal or amendment of PASPA in Congress.”

Critics would be hard-pressed to disagree with Shipp’s assessment, and it is the next logical step for Christie.  On the one hand, PASPA passed by an 88-5 vote in the Senate when enacted in 1992, including the vocal support of one of New Jersey’s own Senators – none other than hall of fame basketball player Bill Bradley.  Such an overwhelming majority in favor of the prohibition of sports wagering may be too difficult to overcome only 20 years later.  On the other hand, many governments across the 50 states have turned a blind eye to the deleterious effects of gambling, as evidenced by the pattern of generous casino licensing across the country.  Perhaps throwing sports into the mix is not too far from acceptance.

The arguments for and against sports wagering have hardly changed over the years.  Opponents worry about compulsive gambling, interstate ramifications, and the integrity of the athletic games that continue to be viewed as forming the fabric of our country.  Advocates cite that the lure of profitability is too great to ignore and that sports wagering happens illegally anyway, so it may as well be state-sponsored, legitimized, and protected.

No matter which side you choose, one things remains clear – the judiciary has stated their peace and no appellate ruling, whether in the Third Circuit or the Supreme Court, is likely to reverse it.  Congress will need to act if state-sponsored sports wagering is ever going to happen.

[1] NJ Stat. Ann. 5:12A-1, et seq. (2012).

[2] NCAA v. Christie, No. 12-4947 (D.N.J., Feb. 28, 2013).

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2 Responses to NJ Sports Wagering: Judiciary Passes the Ball to Federal Legislature

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