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Lesniak moves ahead with N.J. sports betting law after Supreme Court setback

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Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is moving ahead with his contingency plan despite the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed sports betting case.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is moving ahead with his contingency plan despite the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed sports betting case. - (AARON HOUSTON)

After New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, State Sen. Raymond Lesniak said he’s moving ahead with his contingency plan.

Lesniak (D-Union), one of the top advocates for legalizing sports wagering, has already drafted new legislation that he said would allow it to take place at casinos and racetracks. Specifically, the bill would repeal the state laws that make sports betting illegal at those venues, which were in place before the enactment of the 22-year-old federal law that bans the practice in all but four states.

“This is a disappointing decision, but our fight is not over,” Lesniak said in a prepared statement, issued quickly after the state’s two-year legal battle came to a halt.

In orders posted Monday morning, the Supreme Court denied requests filed by the Chris Christie administration, state lawmakers and a thoroughbred horseman’s organization, all seeking to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The high-profile case has pitted the state against the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues, which challenged a 2012 state law that would allow Garden State casinos and racetracks to take wagers on athletic events.

Under the legislation, the sports betting would be a state-regulated industry.

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The state has argued the federal law is unconstitutional, but has been turned aside by judges at several levels, including a federal appeals court in September. Along the way, the U.S. Department of Justice has joined the fight alongside the leagues.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said that he was "disappointed" by the high court's decision, adding that he feels if the case had been taken up, the justices "would have seen that New Jersey is in the right challenging this unconstitutional law."

"We are not giving up though," Sweeney said. "The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on. We will be working with our legal team and advocates to determine the best course of action moving forward. New Jersey has been held hostage by this unfair law and the national sports associations long enough. It's time to bring sports wagering to New Jersey."

Now that the state has exhausted its options in court, Lesniak’s proposal would make it so that “sports wagering conducted at a racetrack or casino under procedures developed solely by the racetrack or casino is not considered unlawful gambling under New Jersey law,” according to a draft of the legislation.

Specifically, he pointed to the Justice Department’s argument that the 1992 law does not obligate New Jersey to leave in place any laws that prohibit the offering. Lesniak said the state “is free to repeal those prohibitions in whole or in part." 

So it would be difficult for the federal government and the leagues to argue that PASPA prevents New Jersey from doing so, he said.

“I expect that the U.S. Justice Department will refrain from intervening, as they have with Colorado and Washington when those states legalized marijuana,” he said. “I plan on placing my first bet at Monmouth Racetrack on September 8th for the Giants to beat the spread against the Lions on Monday Night Football.”

The senator said he has been given no indication yet as to where the governor’s office stands on his bill, but he hopes he will receive Christie's support on the measure.

Christie told reporters at a charity event in New York Monday morning that getting the Supreme Court to hear the case was “always a long shot” and noted that it is perhaps time to “move on.” His office did not immediately return a request for comment specifically regarding Lesniak’s bill.

Lesniak, though, also noted the federal appeals court, in ruling against the state last September, “included a similar invitation” along the lines of the Justice Department's argument.

"But we do not read PASPA to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering. Under PASPA, “[i]t shall be unlawful for . . . a governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact” a sports wagering scheme,” Lesniak wrote, citing a the judges’ ruling. “Nothing in these words requires that the state keep any law in place. All that is prohibited is the issuance of gambling “license[s]” or the affirmative "authoriz[ation] by law” of gambling schemes."

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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