Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Stuart F. Delery, principal deputy assistant to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, filed a notice Tuesday saying the United States will defend the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which restricts sports betting to only four states.
The filing is the latest development in a suit initiated last year by the four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association over New Jersey's plan to begin allowing casinos and race tracks to take sports bets as of 2013. The leagues claim the law will harm their product by shaking fans' confidence in the fairness of their games. Lawyers for the State of New Jersey dismiss that argument, noting that betting already takes place legally in Las Vegas and other areas, and illegally all over the world. Moreover, the state says PAPSA itself is unconstitutional.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) said he was surprised by the federal government's decision. Lesniak has been a chief proponent of sports betting in New Jersey. Still, he said the federal intervention won't change the facts of the case.
"It's just another defendant," he said. "The constitution is the constitution."
New Jersey's Division of Gaming Enforcement had said it would begin issuing sports betting licenses as soon as Jan. 9, but no one has filed for an application to date, according to division spokesperson Lisa Spengler. Monmouth Park is expected to be among the first to file, but Chairman Dennis Drazin told NJBIZ he has yet to do so.
Lesniak said he hopes the implementation of sports betting moves forward even as the case continues, noting the NCAA Men's and Women's Basketball Tournaments are just two months away.
"I'm still holding out hope that for March Madness we'll still be able to take bets in the State of New Jersey," he said. "Not that the case will be finally decided by then, but that the judge would never enjoin us from starting in the meantime."
Judge Michael A. Shipp is set to hear oral arguments in the case on Feb. 14 in Trenton.