TRENTON — Some legal experts are questioning New Jersey’s strategy to defy the federal government and allow sports betting in the state.
The official plans have not been unveiled, but Gov. Chris Christie suggested last week it’s unconstitutional for the government to let Nevada and three other states have sports betting and not others.
That’s what a 2009 federal lawsuit filed by Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak claimed. The suit was dismissed as premature because the state had no sports-betting program at the time. Christie said in May that New Jersey will defy the federal ban and allow sports betting this fall.
Several experts told The Philadelphia Inquirer it may be hard to overturn the 20-year-old federal law, and that the decision to defy the ban may be risky.
I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in California and an authority on gambling law, said he was surprised that Christie would move ahead before receiving support from the federal courts.
“I thought it was bizarre, really, for Chris Christie to say, ‘OK, come and get me, coppers,’ to violate a major federal anti-gambling statute,” Rose told the newspaper. “It certainly is bad lawyering.”
The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act restricted sports betting to Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. All but Nevada are strictly limited in what type of betting they can offer. New Jersey could have become a fifth state to be allowed to offer betting but failed to act in time.
For the past two years, New Jersey has been moving toward implementing sports betting. Last fall, voters indicated by a 2-1 margin in a nonbinding referendum that they want the ability to bet on sporting events.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a sports betting law, and Christie signed it. It would allow bets to be taken at Atlantic City casinos and the state’s four horse tracks. Christie has said he anticipates legal action being taken against the state but that he is confident the state will prevail.
“The only thing that is left is some form of constitutional challenge,” Roberto Rivera-Soto, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice, told the newspaper. “A statute that has been in place for 20 years has become part of the recognized landscape.
“These sorts of things tend to (weigh) against finding that a statute is unconstitutional. But what do they have to lose? If the worst result is they are going to have the status quo, then why not?”
F. Warren Jacoby, a commercial litigator, told the newspaper New Jersey could benefit from the fact that federal regulation has had little impact on the multibillion-dollar illegal sports gambling industry.
“Everyone is saying that, as a practical matter, sports betting is rampant,” Jacoby said. “If the rational basis for regulation is, ‘We don’t want this vice to spread,’ well, clearly in 2012, that objective, while worthy, has not been achieved.”
Last week, the NCAA and the four major pro sports leagues sued the state, saying the sports betting plan violates federal law and threatens the “character and integrity” of sporting events.