New Jersey will be able to question the heads of one amateur and four professional sports organizations about sports betting under a proposal put forward Tuesday in federal court.
The president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and commissioners of the country’s four professional sports leagues must give depositions lasting up to four hours under the proposal filed with the U.S. District Court in Trenton.
The NCAA, National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association and Office of the Commissioner of Baseball are suing New Jersey, seeking to block the state from issuing licenses to casinos and racetracks that will allow them to take bets on sporting events.
If the proposal is approved —a judge must sign off before it takes effect — requiring all five executives to testify as part of a single lawsuit is unusual, although not necessarily one that translates to giving New Jersey a better legal argument, analysts said.
“I don’t know if it would be damning evidence, but it’s not necessarily information that corroborates the legal argument,” said Michael McCann, a sports law professor at the University of Vermont. “It’s hard to know.”
Lawyers representing the NCAA, NFL, NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball had argued against allowing the depositions. They argued the public comments the five high-ranking officials have made on sports betting should be sufficient and that the depositions would be nothing more than harassment.
McCann said that organizations typically don’t want to expose their executives to legal questioning because that may give the public too much insight into their business operations, and in some cases, may prove embarrassing.
“That is why you can win the lawsuit but give up so much in discovery,” he said.
Bruce Porto, also a law professor in Vermont who specializes in collegiate sports, said it was rare that Mark Emmert, the NCAA president and former president of the University of Washington, would be required to give a deposition.
“Typically, he’s not,” Porto said. “I don’t know how he’s going to take to being beat up by lawyers.”
Other officials representing the sports organizations also may be called for depositions, although they will be required to spend no more than six hours. The sports organizations also will be required to produce 10 years’ worth of documents and studies having to do with the potential impact of sports gambling, fantasy sports and March Madness pools on consumer perceptions, ticket sales, viewership ratings and other items.
Nonprivileged emails that reflect comments and positions taken on the subject in response to those studies, analyses, surveys or reports also would be produced by the sports organizations.
The NCAA also would have to produce documents having to do with its August 2009 revision of a policy that moved championship games out of states where sports betting on single games was allowed. The governing body also would have to identify the members of its “gambling activities staff,” including members who were a part of it on or about August 2009.
Gambling has been a concern for NCAA officials for years, and the organization has at least one or more staff members who are charged with investigating the incidence and prevalence of sports gambling among student athletes, according to Frank Butts, the department chair for health, physical education and sport studies at the University of West Georgia, who has studied the problem of sports gambling among college athletes.
“There is a problem and it’s been identified,” he said of collegiate sports gambling.
As part of the timetable agreed upon in the lawsuit, New Jersey must identify who it will depose by Oct. 29, conduct depositions by Nov. 19, and submit reports and provide an answer to the original complaint by Thanksgiving eve. The leagues would submit rebuttal reports and other information to support their lawsuit by Dec. 5.
The state has said it does not intend to issue sports betting licenses until Jan. 9.
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