By Annie Ross
As we predicted last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s action to jump-start Atlantic City’s dying gambling economy by authorizing sports betting in the Garden State would be a bridge too far.
The NCAA, NFL and other major professional sports leagues filed a motion Monday, trying to prevent New Jersey from offering sports betting as soon as this weekend.
Christie signed legislation Friday that partially repealed the state’s sports betting ban. The new law allows sports betting at casinos and racetracks, which are licensed by the state.
Monmouth Park, one New Jersey’s oldest thoroughbred tracks, is planning to offer sports betting on Sunday, unless a court order stops it.
By limiting sports betting to casinos and racetracks, attorneys for the sports leagues say the state is in violation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the 22-year-old federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting.
According to paperwork filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, the leagues view the latest bill as “in clear and flagrant violation of federal law — to accomplish what it unsuccessfully attempted to do three years ago: sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license or authorize gambling on amateur and professional sports at state-licensed casinos and horse racetracks. Because this effort is no more lawful than New Jersey’s past ones, it, too, should be enjoined.”
Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are also part of the complaint. It is scheduled to be considered by a judge Tuesday afternoon in Trenton, Dennis Drazin, an adviser to Monmouth Park’s operators, told NJ.com. But as of late Monday night, the case court docket had not been updated with confirmation of the hearing.
New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak says it’s a state’s right, under general police powers, to restrict where an activity can take place.
The leagues will have to prove immediate and irreparable harm will come from Monmouth Park taking bets on their games Sunday in order to be granted the injunction.
A similar legal situation occurred in 1976, when the NFL unsuccessfully attempted to get a restraining order to prevent Delaware from offering a lottery based on league games. U.S. District Judge Walter K. Stapleton denied the league’s request, stating that he found “no threat of immediate irreparable injury to the NFL.”
Some had questioned whether the NBA would remain in the case, since commissioner Adam Silver has said that his league will be open to “participating” in legalized sports betting.
Currently, Nevada is the only state allowed to offer single-game sports wagers. Delaware, Oregon and Montana may offer variations of sports betting.
Lesniak, the state’s most outspoken proponent of legalized sports betting, is confident that New Jersey ultimately will prevail.
“It’s the leagues’ last hurrah to perpetuate their stranglehold over sports betting which they condone and exploit for their own benefit,” Lesniak said of the leagues’ latest legal challenge.
William Hill U.S. has signed on to be the sports betting provider for Monmouth Park, but declined to comment when asked if they would be running the sports book Sunday. Dennis Drazin, a New Jersey attorney and legal adviser for the track, told ESPN that Monmouth Park will be operating the sports book Sunday, unless the leagues are granted the injunction.