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Key sports betting ruling due out Friday

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The major sports leagues should know by Friday whether they’ll be allowed to challenge New Jersey’s pending legalization of sports betting in court.

Judge Michael A. Shipp said he’ll issue a written ruling by Friday on whether the four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have standing to sue New Jersey over its implementation of sports betting.

A 20-year-old federal law currently bans sports betting in all but four states, but a law signed in January by Gov. Chris Christie would defy that ban. State officials see legalized sports betting as a critical potential revenue stream for the state’s struggling gaming and horse racing industries.

Tuesday’s 90-minute hearing was the opening round of litigation in the case, and dealt with the narrow question of whether the sports leagues have enough of a stake in the matter to challenge it in court.

Attorney Jeffrey Mishkin, arguing for the leagues, said the leagues have a direct interest in the matter because they produce the sporting events that would be bet on.

“They’re our games, your honor,” Mishkin told Shipp.

Mishkin said sports betting would also hurt the leagues by giving some fans a negative perception of the league and calling into question whether aspects of the games were influenced by gambling-related interests.

But Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of New Jersey, said the leagues can’t have standing simply because they anticipate harm. He said there has to be actual harm, and that harm has to be traceable to New Jersey’s legalization of sports betting.

“You have to come into court with facts to prove the harm,” Olson said. “The leagues have not done that.”

Olson also argued that sports betting actually helps the leagues. He said about $2.5 billion is bet on the NCAA basketball tournament each year, and asserted that presence of March Madness gambling pools “has made that tournament immensely popular and increased television revenues.”

Olson also noted that in addition to legal gambling, some $380 billion is spent each year on illegal gambling. Given that, he said the leagues would be hard-pressed to find damages from additional gambling in New Jersey.

Mishkin countered that more legalized gambling would open up a new market of people who otherwise wouldn’t gamble. He said the commissioners of the leagues were best qualified to answer the question of whether sports gambling would hurt their products. The commissioners are unanimous in their opinion, he said.

“Every single commissioner explained (in depositions) why legalized gambling in New Jersey would be bad for their sports,” he said. “They were very concerned about it.”

Even as the legal case moves forward, the state is already planning to institute sports gaming. The Division of Gaming Enforcement has said it will begin issuing sports betting licenses as soon as Jan. 9, unless the courts step in first.

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