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February 18, 2013

Judge Will Probably Rule Soon on N.J. Sports Betting Plan

By: Ifrah Law

New Jersey will likely learn within two weeks if it will be able to move forward with its plan to implement sports betting in the state’s casinos and racetracks.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp heard oral arguments in Trenton on February 14, 2013, on the constitutionality of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and will decide the initial fate of the bill passed last year by the state legislature to legalize sports betting in the state.

The implications of this ruling will be far-reaching, since a decision in favor of the state would remove the biggest hurdle for New Jersey and other states that wish to implement sports betting plans. A favorable ruling could bring live sports betting to New Jersey within a few months.

In December, the court heard oral arguments on the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the suit and found that they did have standing. Next, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its intention to intervene and join the four major sports leagues and the NCAA as plaintiffs in the case. The DOJ filed a brief on February 1 defending the constitutionality of PASPA.

Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, argued on behalf of the DOJ at the hearing and emphasized that PASPA was intended to stop the spread of state-sponsored gambling. Fishman’s arguments focused on the constitutional soundness of the statute, emphasizing that as long as there was a rational basis to pass the law, it was a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause.

Ted Olson, the former United States Solicitor General who was arguing on behalf of the state, opened his arguments by making reference to the jobs and revenue that legalized sports betting would create for New Jersey. Olson also emphasized how state voters, the legislature, and the governor had all backed a law last year that would permit sports wagering but are prevented from implementing the law because of PASPA.

Fishman ended his initial arguments by discussing a 1991 memo written by the DOJ when PASPA was under consideration in Congress – a memo that the DOJ did not address in its brief on the constitutionality of PASPA. This memo noted that determinations of how to raise revenue are typically left to the states and since PASPA was seeking to regulate how states generate revenue, “it raises federalism issues.” Fishman tried to downplay the significance of the letter and argued that the “federalism issues” that the letter refers to were taken out of context.

The arguments covering the anti-commandeering principle, which prohibits the federal government from imposing duties on state legislators or executive officials to carry out a federal initiative, seemed to be of particular interest to Judge Shipp. Both sides argued at length about any costs or burden that New Jersey has been forced to take on in order to be in compliance with PASPA. Jeffrey Mishkin, representing the sports leagues, argued that for anti-commandeering issues to arise, the law must require some affirmative conduct from the state and that PASPA does not compel New Jersey to do anything. Olson also pointed out that there are costs and burdens imposed on New Jersey for complying with PASPA. Olson emphasized that the federal government should not be allowed to impose its will on the state, especially since Nevada has essentially been given a monopoly on single sports game betting under the statute.

The decision in this case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. That court has heard prior appeals involving PASPA, but none of those cases addressed the issue of the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court has never addressed PASPA.

It remains to be seen how Judge Shipp will rule in this case. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who has spearheaded New Jersey’s efforts to bring sports gambling to the state, has stated that sports betting could be live within 60 days if New Jersey receives a favorable ruling in the case. We support New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports wagering in the state in the interests of helping its economy and citizens.