N.J. Attorney General Bars Prosecution of Sports Betting

David Gialanella, From New Jersey Law Journal

The fight over legalization of sports betting in New Jersey, seemingly over months ago when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the issue, is going another round.

In a rare formal opinion, issued Sept. 8, the state Attorney General’s Office directed law enforcement to refrain from prosecuting casinos and racetracks for running sports wagering pools.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

Though parts of a 2012 state law legalizing sports betting in the state were voided in federal court, the office claims sections of the law that lifted New Jersey’s imposition of criminal and civil penalties for taking sports wagers remain good law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the statute was preempted by the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which regulates such wagering.

In light of the attorney general’s directive, Gov. Chris Christie filed a motion in the closed federal case, asking the judge who heard it to amend his injunction that halted enforcement of the legalization measure.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

“In recognizing that the surviving portions of the Sports Wagering Act effect a repeal of New Jersey’s prohibition of sports wagering in casinos and racetracks, the directive has done only what the plaintiffs and the Third Circuit agreed states are free to do under PASPA: exempt certain sports wagering activities from liability,” Christie said in a brief.

The Sports Wagering Act, sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, was enacted in January 2012 after voters approved a state constitutional amendment. It permitted betting on professional and collegiate sports events as long as the wager did not involve a New Jersey-based team.

The law removed statutory bans on sports betting and provided for a regulatory framework.

But the four major sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association sued, seeking a declaration that the law violated PASPA, which in 1992 barred authorization of sports betting in places where it wasn’t already legal.

The state countered by challenging PASPA’s constitutionality and the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office entered the case to defend PASPA.

In February 2013, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp of the District of New Jersey ruled on summary judgment that PASPA preempted the Sports Wagering Act.

The state appealed, arguing that PASPA violates the Tenth Amendment’s anticommandeering doctrine, which bars Congress from making states carry out the will of federal officials. It also alleged that PASPA’s grandfather clause—allowing sports betting to continue where it already was legal—is unfair. New Jersey had its chance to legalize sports betting before PASPA’s enactment and didn’t.

“It’s good that the governor reversed course,” Lesniak said. “After vetoing my legislation that would have achieved the same goal, the administration’s actions today will allow the state to take advantage of an important economic opportunity.”
Read the full story at www.njlawjournal.com

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