The NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament, an annual staple of office pools across the U.S., begins tonight — just hours after attorneys representing that college sports organization try to convince a federal appeals court that sports betting should remain illegal in New Jersey.
The NFL and three other pro sports leagues, as well as the NCAA, have waged a multiyear court battle to prevent New Jersey’s racetracks and casinos from offering Las Vegas-style sports betting on professional and college games. A ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia is not expected until June, according to state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Union County who sponsored the state’s sports betting legislation.
The NCAA has embraced the “brackets” pool format that has helped boost TV ratings in the past 30 years, with the American Gaming Association last week estimating that 70 million brackets will be filled out by fans and gamblers. In the past year, the professional leagues and their franchises have partnered with “daily fantasy sports” companies that offer legal contests in which fans risk money based on player performances but do not allow betting on the outcome of specific games.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver drew national attention last fall by calling legalized sports betting “inevitable,” and his Major League Baseball counterpart, Rob Manfred, said last month that it was time to give “fresh consideration” to the issue.
But none of the sports organizations supports New Jersey’s version of sports betting, which attempts to avoid running afoul of a 1992 federal sports betting law. Unlike an earlier effort by the state that failed in court in 2013 because the gambling would have been licensed and regulated by the state, Lesniak’s bill signed into law by Governor Christie last fall leaves such oversight to the casinos and racetracks instead.
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