U.S. Supreme Court to decide fate of NJ sports betting appeal

Posted: Dec. 29, 2016

The United States Supreme Court, as early as Jan. 17, 2017, is expected to determine the fate of New Jersey’s extended push to allow sports betting at its racetracks and casinos.

The high court, which declined to hear a similar appeal two years ago, scheduled a conference for Jan. 13 and could rule four days later on whether it will hear New Jersey’s case. The state and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association appealed after a federal appeals court in August 2016 invalidated a 2014 state law that repealed prohibitions on sports betting; the court ruled the New Jersey law violates the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

The PASPA banned state-sanctioned sports betting in all but four states: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.

The NJTHA, which leases and operates Monmouth Park, has led the charge for sports betting in New Jersey as a means to keep the track viable. Lawyers for the horsemen’s group and the state, in briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, responded to briefs submitted by sports leagues—NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and NCAA—that are against the appeal.

The NJTHA brief states that federal statutes preempt state law “as a consequence of the creation of some federal rule governing commerce,” and that PASPA doesn’t qualify because it “regulates the content of state law without any federal rule governing commerce as its foundation.”

“In urging this Court to wait for other circuits to weigh in, or for New Jersey’s lawmakers to try again, respondents completely ignore the three decisions from state courts of last resort that conflict in principle with the decision below, fail to acknowledge that New Jersey already has lifted its prohibition on sports gambling at locations other than currently-licensed casinos and racetracks, and say not a word about the significance of the decision below for the numerous state laws authorizing daily fantasy sports wagering,” the NJTHA brief states. “Petitioners have already relied once on what the court of appeals, respondents, and the United States said was permissible, only to have them change their minds when petitioners took them at their word.

“Delay in resolving the important legal issues in this case is unwarranted and will likely sound the death knell for Monmouth Park as a self-sustaining Thoroughbred racetrack.”

The NJTHA and its operating company, Darby Development, have continually sought ways to generate revenue—sports betting; Internet casino-style gambling at racetracks, in partnership with Atlantic City casinos; and video lottery terminals at tracks. For the fall Thoroughbred meet at Meadowlands, the horsemen’s group experimented with reduced pari-mutuel takeout rates.

A brief submitted on behalf of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has pushed to legalize sports betting, states: “The States—co-equal sovereigns in our system of federalism—should not be required to guess whether their efforts to liberalize restrictions on sports wagering are prohibited by federal law. Where fundamental sovereign rights and the balance of power between the state and federal governments are at stake, this Court’s review is warranted.”

The briefs are available for review at Legal Sports Report.

Attorneys general in five other states—Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wisconsin—joined New Jersey’s Supreme Court brief.

Proponents of legal sports betting have questioned the leagues’ support of daily fantasy sports, and the American Gaming Association has estimated that almost $100 billion is wagered illegally each year on professional and college games in the U.S. According to a University of Nevada, Las Vegas report, about $72.5 billion was legally bet on sports in Nevada from 1984-2015.