The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law that banned sports betting in almost every state across the country, handing former New Jersey major economic victory as well as a massive accomplishment for former state Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, who initiated and persisted in the legal action even before state officials came around to support it.
The negates federal restrictions on sports wagering outside of Nevada, in a decision on New Jersey’s suit against the NCAA.
It was a defeat for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the four major professional sports leagues — baseball, football, basketball and hockey — that had successfully blocked New Jersey in lower courts.
New Jersey has been fighting since 2010 to make sports wagering legal at racetracks and casinos in the state, but had repeatedly been blocked by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA).
That law – sponsored by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, who was a New York Knicks basketball star – allowed Nevada to keep its extensive sports betting operations while allowing a handful of states to continue limited gambling options.
It’s possible the ruling my bolster Gov. Chris Christie’s legacy, but bringing a mammoth multibillion-dollar underground industry — no one knows exactly how big — to the surface where it can be regulated, marketed and taxed has states, gaming interests, entrepreneurs and gamblers excited and poised to exploit it.
Lesniak put his name – when Christie wouldn’t – on the original lawsuit that set in motion the events that led to this case reaching the nation’s highest court.
PASPA effectively stopped the spread of legal sports wagering but it was ineffective in thwarting illegal gambling.
The casino lobby estimates that of $60 billion wagered on pro and college football games last season, only $2 billion was bet legally.
Nevada’s casino sports betting was grandfathered in, as were state-run sports lotteries in New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon and Montana but states looking for new revenue sources have considered this ripe for some time.
There have to be debates within executive suites and newsrooms over how to make the most of opportunities state-sanctioned gambling might present to ensure standards are not compromised in a way that damages credibility or reputation.
The decision was a long time coming for the lawmaker who spearheaded this challenge of PASPA in the original lawsuit that set in motion the events that led to this case reaching the nation’s highest court before he retired after 40 years serving in the New Jersey state legislature,
Lesniak first got his internet gambling bill passed through the Senate late in 2010.
Early in 2011, the bill passed through the Legislature only for Christie to veto, a decision the Senator blamed on opposition from Caesars Entertainment, which owned four Atlantic City casinos but was based out of Nevada.
“The hardest part was getting the New Jersey casinos on board,” Lesniak said in January. “They fought me every step of the way. They were opposed because they were sold a bill of goods by Harry Reid and [Chuck] Grassley in the Senate that they were going to get national internet gaming passed, which was never going to happen. I overcame that opposition in New Jersey, and now they’re the ones benefiting from it.”
It took another two years of work before Lesniak put internet gambling back on the governor’s desk. This time Christie’s conditional veto only asked for minor changes. Lesniak got the legislature to approve those changes within three weeks to finally get Christie’s signature.
Online gaming has accounted for $700 million in revenue since launching in 2013.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that without internet gaming, we would have had one or two more casinos close, and that would have been a terrible tragedy,” Lesniak said.
Congress enacted the sports betting ban in 1992 to protect the integrity of the games.
Lesniak, who left office in January, argued that PASPA ran afoul of the 10th Amendment, which reserves for the states all powers not delegated to the federal government.
Christie, who also left office in January, signed a law legalizing sports betting in 2012 after voters in 2011 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state Constitution to permit it.
That law was overturned by federal district and appeals courts, but the state tried again in 2014 with a law that stopped short of legalization but repealed the prohibition against running a sports books at tracks and casinos.
That also was rejected at the trial and appellate levels, but the Supreme Court agreed last June to hear the case and took oral argument in December.
Dennis Drazin, the operator of the Monmouth Park racetrack, said he expected to offer sports betting “within two weeks” unless the Legislature or other elected officials asks him to wait.
Meadowlands Racetrack, Freehold Raceway and most Atlantic City casinos will likely be up and running for the college football and National Football League seasons this fall.
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