NJ Sports Betting Efforts Suffer Another Setback

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State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

STATE – A three-judge panel at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia dampened hope to bring legalized sports gambling to New Jersey, upholding a ruling that said a state statute initiated by an Elizabeth lawmaker conflicts with federal law, which most likely means the case is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Chris Christie, who originally opposed Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s plan to legalize sports gambling, more recently said he would take the case to the nation’s top court if necessary.

New Jersey is defying a 1992 federal law that limits sports betting to four states by implementing regulations to let people bet on the outcomes of football, basketball and other games.

“We want to work with the casinos and horse racing industry to get it implemented,” the Republican governor said. “If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us… but I have every confidence we’re going to be successful.”

Sports betting advocates say it will help Atlantic City’s 12 casinos and the state’s four racetracks: the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, Freehold Raceway and Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing.

Proponents claim legal sports betting would also provide a new source of government revenue from money that now flows untaxed to offshore Internet sites or illegal bookmakers, many of which are run by organized crime.

Lesniak, the Democratic lawmaker who launched the effort to overturn the federal ban, predicted that sports wagering will ultimately succeed.

“To those with a vested interest in the status quo – the professional sports organizations who take a hypocritical stance that wagering will `ruin the purity of the game,’ and the Nevada-based gaming conglomerates that have enjoyed that state’s stranglehold on sports wagering for the last 20 years – I respectfully say, `Bring it on,’” said Lesniak.

Lesniak believes the federal ban is unconstitutional, so he is counting on the courts to put New Jersey on the same competitive footing as the rest of the nation when it comes to sports wagering.

In 2011, New Jersey voters indicated by a 2-to-1 margin in a nonbinding referendum that they want the ability to bet on sporting events, and last year lawmakers enacted a bill that limited bets to the Atlantic City casinos and the state’s horse racing tracks.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA sued the state last year, arguing that betting could injure the integrity of the games.

Attorneys for the state claimed the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is unconstitutional on several levels.

They said the law unfairly permitted Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware to conduct sports gambling while banning the practice elsewhere in violation of state sovereignty and equal protection provisions while undermining the power of state legislatures under the 10th Amendment.

Tuesday’s appellate ruling upheld the opinion of U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp, who ruled in March that the case raised novel questions that should be addressed by Congress and not the courts.

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