New Jersey lost Round 2 of its fight to offer legal sports betting, when U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp unsurprisingly ruled in favor of the sports leagues and Dept. of Justice late Thursday evening.
But this landmark legal battle — centered on the constitutionality of the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 — is far from over and likely won’t be until the Supreme Court has its say.
New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak said the state will appeal immediately. The case then will move to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel will assess expanded arguments from each side.
"Immediately, but that means we'll have to wait another year to get justice for the residents of New Jersey who overwhelmingly approved my sports betting referendum," Lesniak told The Linemakers on Sporting News in an email.
It’s just another step, though, before this potentially game-changing case featuring powerful combatants and big-name attorneys likely heads to the Supreme Court. Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson is in New Jersey’s corner. Olsen’s successor as solicitor general, Paul Clement, is representing the leagues.
There's also a push at the legislative level for more widespread legalized sports betting. Two New Jersey Congressmen, Frank Pallone and Frank LoBiondo, have introduced bills to amend PASPA.
After overwhelming support from voters, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation last January, legalizing sports betting at the state’s race tracks and casinos.
In August, the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball sued Christie. Shipp ruled in December the leagues’ suit had standing, and the Dept of Justice jumped on board in February.
The PASPA of 1992, a federal statute that prohibits all but four states — Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana — from offering forms of sports betting is at the center of the debate.
Shipp ruled the PASPA is a “reasonable expression of Congress’ powers and is therefore constitutional. ...
“Although some of the questions raised in this case are novel, judicial intervention is generally unwarranted no matter how unwise a court considers a policy decision of the legislative branch, Shipp wrote in his 45-page summary judgment. “As such, to the extent the people of New Jersey disagree with PASPA, their remedy is not through passage of a state law or through the judiciary, but through the repeal or amendment of PASPA in Congress.”
The NFL said in an emailed statement that "the ruling speaks for itself."
Shipp’s decision was unsurprising to most legal experts, who have considered New Jersey an underdog from the beginning. In December, he ruled that the leagues’ suit against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had standing to continue. The Dept. of Justice joined the case on the side of the leagues in February, before oral arguments were heard.
“It’s a rare case for a district court judge to overrule an existing federal statute on constitutional grounds, because he or she knows things like that will normally get to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court anyway,” said Ryan Rodenberg, an assistant professor of sports law analytics Florida State University. “And I think Olson and Clement have known this for months. This has possible Supreme Court review written all over it.”
LoBiondo believes addressing the issue at the federal level is critical, but acknowledged facing an uphill battle.
“This is not at the tip of everyone’s tongue here in Washington,” LoBiondo said in a brief phone interview Wednesday.
“A huge disappointment,” Lesniak, one of the key supporters of the state’s push to bring legal sports betting to its casinos and race tracks, said of Shipp's ruling. “I call upon the entire New Jersey Congressional delegation to support Congressmen Pallone and LoBiando's legislation lifting the federal ban on sports betting and ending the economic advantage given to Nevada where sports betting is allowed.”
If New Jersey were to pull the upset in the appeals process, more states will unquestionably line up for their shot a piece of what’s considered an under-leveraged and unregulated billion-dollar industry. Minnesota and California already have introduced sports betting legislation.
In the meantime, the Land of the Free does not offer wide-spread legalized sports betting.