A racetrack operator wants to join the fight in favor of starting sports betting in New Jersey by seeking to intervene in a federal lawsuit professional and collegiate sports leagues filed Tuesday.

“We definitely intend to move on behalf of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which operates Monmouth Park,” said Dennis Drazin, head of the association. “We believe our position will be the same as the state.”

Drazin made the assertion hours after the National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball filed their lawsuit to block sports betting in U.S. District Court in Trenton, citing New Jersey’s violation of the federal Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act.

The lawsuit had been highly anticipated by state officials, such as Gov. Chris Christie, who appeared to bait the leagues into filing the litigation during a press conference on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in May.

“We intend to go forward and allow sports gambling to happen, and if someone wants to stop us, then they’ll have to take action to try to stop us,” the governor said at the time.

Federal law permits sports gambling only in four states: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Those states were the only ones to offer some form of gambling prior to the enactment of PASPA in 1992. The only way around the law would be a congressional repeal or judicial overturning of the legislation.

While the state will have to defend itself from the lawsuit, Drazin said by seeking to become a party to the lawsuit as an intervenor, the horsemen’s association was looking to lend its support to New Jersey’s case.

“You can help to advocate the issue,” he said.

Drazin has been vocal on the issue, becoming the first among racetrack and casino executives to publicly say in July he would apply for a sports gambling license if the state authorized it. The sports leagues, in fact, identified Drazin by name in the suit as it made the case that the court should issue an injunction to stop New Jersey from implementing sports gambling.

“Amateur and professional sports are an integral part of American culture, particularly among the country’s youth who often look up to athletes as role models,” the leagues said in their lawsuit. “The sponsorship, operation, advertising, promotion, licensure and authorization of sports gambling would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition.”

Earlier this year, Christie signed into law a bill allowing sports betting at casinos and racetracks. Last month the Division of Gaming Enforcement published a set of regulatory proposals that would allow casinos and racetracks to apply for a sports gambling license.

While the sports leagues have sued some states, such as Delaware, when that state tried to expand its sports-gambling programs, this suit will likely raise questions around the constitutionality of the law, observers said. Some critics of the law believe it discriminates against some states and that it violates the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights.

“The root of the lawsuit is not about New Jersey,” said Michael McCann, director and professor of law at the Sports Law Institute at the Vermont Law School. “There are legitimate questions about whether it’s constitutional.”

In order for the sports league to win an injunction — that is, to forcibly stop New Jersey from proceeding with sports gambling while the case is being litigated — lawyers must show that they have a good chance of winning on the merits of their lawsuit and that they would be “irreparably harmed” if sports gambling were allowed to proceed while the matter was before the court.

“It’s going to be hard for the leagues to say there would be irreparable harm,” McCann said, adding that the leagues would have to show that there would be no monetary award that would suffice.

Local legislators also chimed in on the matter Tuesday, including Assemblymen John Amodeo and Chris Brown, both R-Atlantic, who held an unrelated news conference in Atlantic City where they expressed their support of the state’s case.

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who also was in the city for another, unrelated news conference, characterized the NCAA and the professional sports leagues as “hypocrites” for fighting New Jersey’s sports-betting law. He said they purport to oppose sports betting at the same time they cooperate with TV and radio shows to give the betting odds on games.

“Spare me the hypocrisy,” Whelan said.

Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, has been a backer of sports betting and online gambling as ways to revitalize the city’s struggling casino market. However, he cautioned that sports betting might not provide a big boost for New Jersey because rival casino states will look to add it, too.

“I think that sports betting, though helpful, is not going to be a boom for Atlantic City, as everyone expected,” he said. “Once sports betting comes, everybody is going to have it.”

Staff Writers Donald Wittkowski and Derek Harper contributed to this report.

Contact Hoa Nguyen:

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