A federal sports-betting ban “commandeers” New Jersey’s lawmaking ability by requiring it to prohibit the activity, rather than directly banning people from wagering, New Jersey lawyers argue in court documents challenging the ban.

The brief filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Trenton was the the first time New Jersey formalized its intent to challenge the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, arguing that the federal law violates the 10th Amendment.

“PASPA does not seek to curtail sports wagering by directly prohibiting such activity in some or all states,” New Jersey’s lawyers wrote in the brief. “Instead, it mandates that certain states not ‘authorize by law or compact’ sports wagering and thereby requires those same states to maintain and enforce their pre-existing bans on sports wagering. The Tenth Amendment, under established precedent, does not permit the federal government to ‘commandeer’ state legislative and enforcement functions in such a manner.”

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill authorizing the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to regulate sports betting in direct defiance of the federal law.

The NCAA, NBA, NFL, NHL and Office of Commissioner of Baseball soon filed the federal lawsuit, citing PASPA.

In the brief, New Jersey’s lawyers argued that by allowing some states to regulate sports betting — such as Nevada, which was among states that allowed some form of sports betting prior to the passage of PASPA in 1992 — the federal government was taking power away from the other states. While Congress has the power to regulate commerce differently from state to state due to different local conditions, all must enjoy “equal sovereignty,” according to lawyers.

“There can be no doubt that PASPA denies New Jersey and the other disfavored states the sovereignty that it grants to Nevada and the favored states,” lawyers said. “If PASPA’s discrimination were allowed, no principled basis would exist to deny Congress the right to similarly limit car manufacturing to Michigan, cigarette manufacturing to Virginia or fish processing to Alaska.”

The NCAA and leagues have until Dec. 5 to issue a response to New Jersey’s constitutional arguments.

New Jersey also has argued that the sports governing bodies lack standing to sue because they cannot prove wagering on sporting events would financially harm the organizations.

The NCAA and leagues have countered that allowing gambling to routinely occur on sporting events would change fan perception and impact the game, citing how New Jersey, in enacting its own sports betting law, banned any wages from being taken on collegiate sporting events held in the state or involving New Jersey teams.

Lawyers from both sides are expected to appear in court on Dec. 18 for oral arguments.

One day earlier, lawyers representing the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, operators of Monmouth Park, as well as New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Speaker of the House Sheila Oliver, also are expected in Trenton to ask the judge to make them a party to the lawsuit.

The horsemen’s association said it has a stake in the case because it wants to institute sports betting at its race track, while Sweeney and Oliver said they are looking to protect the lawmaking rights of their respective legislative bodies.

Contact Hoa Nguyen:

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