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Sports betting advocate: Court ruling against wagers is disappointing, but not a surprise

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    Dennis Drazin at Monmouth Park. 'We always thought that (the appeal) would go to the Supreme Court,' he says.
    Dennis Drazin at Monmouth Park. 'We always thought that (the appeal) would go to the Supreme Court,' he says. - (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

    State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said he will “continue to fight” to bring sports betting to New Jersey despite a ruling handed down today by a federal appeals court blocking it.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, today ruled 2-1 in favor of upholding the constitutionality of the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, which limits sports betting to four states, of which New Jersey is not one. The ruling essentially prevents the state from implementing its own sports betting program.

    Lesniak, a chief advocate for bringing sports betting to New Jersey, said today in a statement that he and other supporters will look to take the matter one step further to a full court of appeals or higher to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Dennis Drazin, an adviser to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that while disappointing, today's ruling was by no means surprising.

    "This wasn’t a case that we thought would be decided at the Third Circuit level," Drazin said. "We always thought that it would go to the Supreme Court."

    He said while the NJTHA, which is a party to the suit, has not determined which court it will turn to next, it will undoubtedly appeal. Personally for Drazin, he said he'd prefer to see it go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Drazin added that he's eagerly awaiting to see what Gov. Chris Christie's response to the ruling will be, noting that the association's position all along has been to defer to Christie's decisions on the matter.

    With the state’s cause garnering one vote from the three-judge panel unlike in previous rulings, Lesniak said it gives him a sense of optimism going forward.

    “For the first time, a judge has ruled in our favor,” Lesniak said. “That gives us hope that others — either Supreme Court justices or the entire court of appeals for our district — will allow New Jersey to enjoy the economic benefits of sports betting that are now reserved exclusively for Nevada.”

    Denying Atlantic City of offering sports betting gives Las Vegas and other outlets an unfair advantage over New Jersey’s casino resort destination, Lesniak said.

    “Las Vegas is jammed for Super Bowl week and for the NCAA’s Final Four weekend, while Atlantic City is a ghost town,” Lesniak said. “That’s just wrong. The only other beneficiaries of the court’s ruling today are sports betting rings run by organized crime and the offshore Internet sites for sports betting.”

    Today's ruling also resonated with state lawmakers in Washington. In a joint statement this afternoon, U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone and Frank LoBiondo offered their full support for the state appealing the matter further.

    "The decision from the Third Circuit is extremely disappointing and one that we do not support," the congressmen said. "Fortunately, there remain opportunities for appeal, which may still allow New Jersey to move forward with sports wagering."

    Pallone and LoBiondo said allowing the state to implement sports betting would help curb criminal activity while at the same time generate revenue "by taking sports gambling out of the shadows and regulating it." They added that New Jerseyans "clearly support it."

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    Andrew George

    Andrew George

    Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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