Major Professional Sports Leagues Wage New Battle vs. NJ’s Latest Sports Betting Initiatives

Three weeks ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had announced that NJ casinos and racetracks could offer sports betting, as the state has no existing legislation that imposes regulations or that prohibits such gambling activity from taking place within the Garden State. As expected, the four (4) major North American professional sports associations that previously embarked on a legal lawsuit to stop sports betting in NJ will not take the governor’s latest promulgation sitting down.          

 

Last Monday, the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), the Major League Baseball, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) filed another motion before Judge Michael Shipp of the District Court of New Jersey. The group of pro sports leagues is petitioning the federal judge to block the NJ government’s attempt at circumventing the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which Judge Shipp had upheld last year, by issuing a permanent injunction against the Garden State’s sports betting law.

The leagues described New Jersey’s move as an astounding, blatant, and specious violation of the District Court’s previous ruling. The motion stated that the latest arguments used by the NJ officials are obvious attempts to get around the district court’s injunction, as well as the PASPA law on which the district judge’s ruling was based.

The leagues further contend that NJ casinos and racetracks are under strict regulatory supervision, and allowing the establishments to include sports betting in their offerings is tantamount to placing it under regulation. Moreover, the Monmouth Park and Meadowlands racetracks are state-owned, and any sports betting activities allowed in those racetracks are directly under the state government’s administration, and therefore pose as breach of the PASPA.   

Accordingly, Gov. Christie had also filed an earlier petition to the U.S. District Court Judge to amend the injunction previously issued by Judge Shipp in relation to the already closed federal case. Governor Christie took action after State Attorney General John Hoffman issued a directive to law enforcers instructing them to refrain from taking legal action against state casinos and racetracks that offer sports betting. Atty. Hoffman explained, “New Jersey was not regulating, licensing or authorizing betting on sport matches, but had merely informed casino and racetrack operators that they would not be prosecuted if they choose to do so.”

In his brief, Gov. Christie stated that the injunction repealed a New Jersey law that contained statutory bans, because the state intended to put in place a regulatory framework. The permanent injunction therefore had done the exact opposite, as it removed the provisions that barred gambling establishments from offering sports betting products and services to their customers. 

However, the leagues argued that even if the injunction repealed the state’s prohibitions for sports betting, it cannot be treated as separate from the purpose of the Sports Wagering Law, which was to allow regulated sports betting and the PASPA federal law expressly prohibits that purpose. 

The decision whether NJ can still pursue unregulated sports betting is once again in Judge Shipp’s hand, and the earliest by which the federal judge will come out with a ruling is next week.

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