WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday suggested it may side with New Jersey in its effort to legalize sports gambling in a case that could make betting on football, basketball and other sports widely available.
During the hourlong hearing, the court heard arguments on New Jersey’s challenge to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law that prohibits sports betting in most states.
The case pits New Jersey and other states against all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government. The stakes are high. The American Gaming Association estimates Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, who attended the hearing, said he is confident the ban will be overturned. Lesniak, D-Union, has been fighting to bring sports betting to Atlantic City and the state for the past eight years.
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“I expect us to win. I would be very disappointed if we didn’t,” he said.
A decision is expected by the end of June.
Gov. Chris Christie said outside court that if the justices rule in New Jersey’s favor, “we could have bets being taken in New Jersey within two weeks of a decision by the court.”
If the PASPA ban is struck down, New Jersey is expected to generate more than $173 million in additional tax revenue and see the creation of more than 3,633 jobs, according to a study from Oxford Economics. Nationally, 32 states likely would offer sports betting within five years.
“Our casinos deserve this,” Lesniak said. “They have been ailing for years. This will bring a lot of life and jobs back to Atlantic City.”
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The state argued the Constitution allows Congress to make wagering on sports illegal but it can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.
Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to suggest Congress’ action was permissible. But other justices suggested they would side with New Jersey. Justice Anthony Kennedy told Paul Clement, who was arguing for the sports leagues, that the law seemed like impermissible “commandeering,” or compelling the state to take an action.
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, viewed the reaction of the court to the arguments as a positive in the fight to overturn the “unconstitutional law.”
“While we can’t predict the intentions of Supreme Court justices, we can accurately predict the demise of” PASPA, Freeman said. “The justices of the court expressed deep interest in the role of the federal government — a role that we believe has created a thriving illegal market that has driven trillions of dollars to offshore websites and corner bookies.”
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The law barring sports gambling makes exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware, states that had approved some form of sports wagering before the law took effect. Nevada is the only state where a person can wager on the results of a single game, though the law doesn’t cover wagering among friends. In passing the law, Congress gave New Jersey a yearlong window to authorize sports betting at its casinos, but the state didn’t act.
“It’s my sincere hope that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor to finally legalize sports betting here in New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “Having sports betting will be another tool in our arsenal to attract more visitors and revenue to Atlantic City.”
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, called the law absurd.
“At a time when we are revitalizing Atlantic City and hundreds of millions of dollars are leaving the state on sports betting, the federal ban is only punishing New Jersey residents,” Brown said.