On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept New Jersey’s appeal about legalized sports betting. But one politician seemingly has a plan to get around the decision.
State Senator Ray Lesniak repeated claims on Monday—arguments first made on a New York sports radio station last week—that New Jersey should ignore the feds, just like Colorado and Washington State did when voters there approved legalized marijuana in referendums.
Back in 2011, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum amending the state constitution to allow sports betting at casinos and other facilities. Lawmakers in Trenton then passed a law to allow betting, but the Justice Department jumped into the situation when the major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued.
Lesniak said in a statement today that he would introduce new legislation to make sure pro sports betting happens, with or without federal approval.
"I expect that the U.S. Justice Department will refrain from intervening, as they have with Colorado and Washington when those states legalized marijuana," Lesniak said. "I plan on placing my first bet at Monmouth Racetrack on Sept. 8 for the Giants to beat the spread against the Lions on 'Monday Night Football.'"
The state’s top two political leaders seemed less assured that the state would tackle the Justice Department, the Supreme Court, the NFL and others after New Jersey lost its latest court battle on sports betting.
Democratic leader Steve Sweeney said he thought the federal law was unconstitutional and he wasn’t giving up.
“We will be working with our legal team and advocates to determine the best course of action moving forward,” he said.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, was blunter. “That’s the way it goes,” Christie said at a charity event on Monday. “They said no so we have to move on.”
Lesniak, who also is an attorney, is arguing that a provision in a lower court ruling could be used to get around a federal law that allows only four state governments to run sports betting operations.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 allows pro sports betting in Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana. New Jersey also had an opportunity to be on the short list of betting-approved states, but it didn’t take up the offer in the 1990s.
According to published reports, Lesniak may seek to amend New Jersey’s law to loosen restrictions on all sports betting as way to get around the federal court decisions.
Draft legislation obtained by NJBiz.com cites wording from a federal appeals court decision last year as a basis for allowing casinos and racetracks to conduct sports betting without direct government supervision via a license.
“Sports wagering conducted at a racetrack or casino under procedures developed solely by the racetrack or casino is not considered unlawful gambling under New Jersey law,” the draft law says.
The reason is linked to a statement in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last September, which said that “we do not read PASPA to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering.”
“Nothing in these words requires that the state keep any law in place. All that is prohibited is the issuance of gambling ‘license[s]’ or the affirmative ‘authoriz[ation] by law, of gambling schemes," said Lesniak, as quoted on NJBiz.com.
Given that the Justice Department would likely view such an action as an end run around the Supreme Court and appeals court decisions, the passage of Lesniak’s law will be closely watched, and if passed, would wind up on Gov. Christie’s desk.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
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