The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review the federal ban on sports betting, setting the stage for a showdown between the Department of Justice and state lawmakers bent on bringing the practice to New Jersey casinos and racetracks.
“We’re not going to be deterred,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who introduced a bill in the state Senate on Monday that could allow New Jersey casinos and racetracks to start taking sports bets by September, federal ban or not.
Monmouth Park would be the first sports-betting parlor, he said: “Monmouth Park will be ready to go in September, and I’ll be there to place the first bet.”
New Jersey has fought in court for years to bring sports betting to the state, hoping to revive tepid gaming revenue and raise millions of tax dollars. Sports betting “can and will be the savior for both Atlantic City casinos and our racetrack industries,” said Lesniak, D-Union.
The state says the federal ban, called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, unconstitutionally infringes on states’ rights to raise tax revenue and gives preferential treatment to certain states. Federal judges have repeatedly rejected that argument, finding the law constitutional.
The NCAA and all four major sports leagues have pressed to keep sports betting from spreading beyond Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon, which received exemptions to continue betting operations in place before Congress enacted PASPA in 1992. The leagues say sports betting taints honest competition by fostering suspicion among fans that bets are affecting games.
In a nonbinding referendum in the November 2011 election, 64 percent of New Jersey voters supported legalized sports betting.
In January 2012, New Jersey enacted a law to permit sports betting at New Jersey casinos and racetracks. Then, after a lawsuit by the leagues in August 2012, a federal judge voided the law and barred the state from moving forward with the plan. A panel of Third Circuit appellate judges later affirmed the decision, which left the Supreme Court as New Jersey’s last avenue to have PASPA overturned.
Lesniak said he hopes his bill allows New Jersey to bypass the ban altogether. PASPA bans states from issuing sports betting licenses and otherwise promoting the practice. But it doesn’t prevent a state from taking a completely hands-off approach to sports betting and letting casinos and racetracks do what they will, he said.
And that’s the system — or lack thereof — that the bill calls for, said state Sen. Jim Whelan, a co-sponsor.
“The state doesn’t authorize it, but … the state doesn’t prohibit it. The state doesn’t do anything,” said Whelan, D-Atlantic.
But will the approach survive federal scrutiny?
“It certainly would be an interesting tactic,” said Christopher Soriano, chairman of the Casino Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association. “My suspicion is the Department of Justice is going to take a very, very close look at it, and if they find anything that they’re not comfortable with, that they would then seek … an injunction stopping it.”
Rebekah Carmichael, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.
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