NJ Sports Betting Plan Gets Smacked by Major Sports Leagues

on October 21, 2014
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is hoping that allowing sports betting could aid struggling Atlantic City casinos, but major sports leagues are fighting it. (Image:Mel Evans/ AP)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is hoping that allowing sports betting could aid struggling Atlantic City casinos, but major sports leagues are fighting it. (Image:Mel Evans/ AP)

The NJ sports betting legislation passed last week is now being challenged by the four major professional sports leagues in North America, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The leagues are seeking a temporary injunction that would stop New Jersey casinos and racetracks from taking bets on sporting events, something that could otherwise start happening as early as this weekend.

This is the latest move in a battle that has seen Garden State voters, legislators and Governor Chris Christie approve sports betting several times, only to see a strong pushback from sporting organizations and federal officials who say the practice is banned.

The latest effort would allow venues with gambling licenses to offer such bets, but wouldn’t see New Jersey actually regulate the practice.

New Jersey Seeks to Work Around 1992 Ban

Those who are fighting to stop this effort say that it violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a law passed in 1992 that banned sports betting outside of the four states that already offered such bets. Nevada was allowed to operate full sportsbooks at its casinos, while Delaware, Montana and Oregon could offer more limited betting options.

New Jersey officials say that the law and subsequent court rulings show that while the state cannot regulate or license sports betting, it can allow it to happen within its borders without consequence. But lawyers for the sports organizations say that this is just another attempt by New Jersey to dance around laws that clearly prohibit such activity.

“Because this effort is no more lawful than New Jersey’s past ones, it, too, should be enjoined,” the leagues said in paperwork filed in US District Court earlier this week. It has also been argued that sports betting would be implicitly regulated by New Jersey, because the state regulates the venues that it now wants to let offer those bets.

Injunction Could Be Difficult to Obtain

The sports leagues would need an injunction to stop betting from starting on Sunday, when Monmouth Park says it wants to start taking bets on NFL games. The bets would be taken by hand by 10 tellers, with officials hoping to see a big turnout for the first legal sports bets in the state.

In order to get the injunction, the sports leagues would have to prove that allowing those bets would cause them immediate and irreparable harm. That’s a high legal standard, one that has proven difficult to meet in the past. In 1976, the NFL tried to stop Delaware from offering a lottery sports betting game, but was unable to get an injunction from a District Court Judge. New Jersey officials hope the same story will play out this week.

“I have a hard time believing that a judge will determine that the leagues can prove they can be irreparably damaged by Monmouth racetrack’s taking bets, when people are betting every single day legally in Nevada,” said State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union County).

Lesniak, Christie and others are hoping that legalized sports betting can provide a boost for Atlantic City’s struggling casinos. Christie had previously vetoed two bills in August that attempted to work around earlier court rulings, but then issued a directive last month telling casinos and racetracks that they could offer such bets, and signed the most recent legislation in an attempt to reinforce that directive.