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N.J.'s quest to legalize sports bets heads back to court

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A U.S. District judge is hearing arguments today on the constitutionality of a federal law that limits sports betting to four states.

Judge Michael A. Shipp is presiding over an afternoon hearing at the federal courthouse in Trenton. At issue is whether New Jersey can move forward to implement sports betting in spite of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which prohibits wagering on sports in most of the nation.

The four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association last year sued New Jersey to stop sports betting here. They say legalized betting would harm their sports' reputations and make fans question the veracity of the games being played.

'An absolute abuse'

Ray Lesniak has been a chief proponent of legalizing sports wagering in New Jersey.

New Jersey counters that the federal ban is unconstitutional because it favors some states over others and represents an intrusion of the federal government into an activity that ought to be regulated by the states.

"It's an absolute abuse of the Commerce Clause power of Congress to allow a state like Nevada an unbridled economic advantage by having sports betting while denying it to the state of New Jersey," said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), one of sports betting's chief proponents.

If New Jersey is successful, casinos and race tracks would be allowed to take sports bets for the first time, creating a valuable revenue stream for the struggling industries.

This is the second time Shipp will hear arguments in the case. In December, he ruled the leagues have standing to sue, even though New Jersey had yet to implement sports betting.

Last month, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would join the case and defend the constitutionality of PASPA.

Shipp is not expected to render his decision today.

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