New Jersey is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make the final call on whether the state can legalize sports betting.
Following a steady stream of defeats in lower courts, New Jersey has filed a petition asking the highest federal court to take the case that calls into question the subject of states’ rights. Some believe a ruling in favor of the state could provide a much-needed boost to Atlantic City’s economy.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a strong supporter of the state’s quest, said the court will decide by May or June whether it will take the case. Lesniak, D-Union, has described some of the blows dealt as devastating setbacks, but Tuesday said he remains hopeful that the state can be successful.
“The bottom line is, if you're not in it, you can't win it, and we're in it," Lesniak said.
More than two years ago, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to allow sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and horse-racing tracks. Since then, however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and several professional sports leagues have fought the state with a lawsuit, prohibiting it from entering the industry expected to be worth billions.
The objections are based on a 1992 federal law barring all but four states from authorizing sports wagering. Those four states — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon— legalized the practice before the law was passed.
The petition filed on behalf of Gov. Chris Christie and other state parties Feb. 12 asks the Supreme Court to consider whether the prohibition under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, also known as PAPSA, violates the U.S. Constitution by infringing on states’ rights. It also asks whether the law unfairly favors the four states that have already legalized the practice.
“(The law) impermissibly trenches on the states’ authority to regulate their own citizens, and it does so in a manner that discriminates among the states. That double-barreled infringement on the sovereign prerogatives of the states calls out for review,” the state wrote in its petition.
The Supreme Court is extremely selective in the cases it takes. Of about 10,000 petitions received each year, the court grants and hears oral arguments for between 75 and 80 cases, or less than 1 percent, according to the court.
“Once they do take a case on appeal, they overturn a majority of the cases,” Lesniak said. “This is a big case. It also involves issues that are on the front burner of the Supreme Court right now in terms of states' rights.”
U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, and Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th, on Tuesday issued a joint statement in support on the state’s bid. The congressmen have sponsored federal legislation that would allow the state to legalize sports betting as an alternative to the state’s court battle.
“We have long believed our state should be allowed to move forward with sports wagering as the people of New Jersey clearly support it,” LoBiondo and Pallone said in the statement. “We remain committed to continuing our push to pass legislation that we have proposed that would bring legal sports wagering to New Jersey.”
A federal trial court blocked New Jersey from taking sports bets in March 2013. The state appealed, but in September was rejected by a three-member panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The appeals court would not agree to a rehearing.
Proponents have said they were encouraged by the 2-1 September ruling in which one judge — Thomas Vanaskie — split the court’s decision. Vanaskie questioned whether the federal government is within its rights to ban states from implementing sports betting.
Lesniak on Tuesday reaffirmed his position that sports wagering could be a boon for Atlantic City’s economy. Meanwhile, some have suggested that if New Jersey is successful in its battle, other states will follow in legalizing the practice, thus cutting down on the potential revenue stream to the state.
Last year several states, including West Virginia, Georgia, Kansas and Virginia, filed documents in federal court to support New Jersey’s position.
“This is the Big Kahuna for Atlantic City. This will bring Atlantic City back to life,” Lesniak said. “It’s a $500 billion business in the U.S. There’s plenty to go around.”
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