The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard oral arguments Tuesday in New Jersey's latest legal attempt to bring sports betting to its casinos and racetracks.
“This could go either way,” Florida-based sports and gaming attorney Daniel Wallach said, after attending the proceedings.
New Jersey argued that, under a 2014 state law repealing all state prohibitions against sports betting, it is in compliance with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 23-year-old federal law that limits sports betting to just four states, because it would not be regulating sports wagering, just repealing the laws preventing casinos and racetracks from taking bets.
The case was moved to a federal appeals court after U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp ruled in favor of the four major sports leagues and the NCAA in November, issuing a permanent injunction against all sports wagers in the state.
The issue of repeal and how that applies to PASPA is what separates this case from New Jersey’s previous legal fight to bring sports betting to the state. Following a voter referendum on the issue, Gov. Chris Christie signed a 2012 law permitting sports betting in the state. The leagues then successfully argued before both Shipp and the Third Circuit that the state was in clear violation of PASPA.
But, this time around, rather than take PASPA on, the state is attempting to circumvent it.
And it was the Third Circuit where its latest idea was born, as the court noted in its previous decision that the state would not be violating PASPA as long as it is not affirmatively authorizing sports betting.
The definition of authorization and whether or not full or partial repeal would satisfy PASPA were recurring themes Tuesday.
Wallach said he believes the court will look to deliver an “airtight” opinion that will be presented with extreme clarity in order to prevent a possible third challenge. That doesn’t mean, however, that New Jersey is down for the count.
“New Jersey has a chance here,” Wallach said.
No matter what the ruling, which Wallach says he expects to see in early May, the losing side would then move to file a petition for a rehearing of the case. Ultimately, both sides would probably look to have the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Though the Supreme Court previously declined to hear the case after the Third Circuit ruled against New Jersey the first time around, this time could be different, especially if New Jersey wins.
The leagues would have a strong case to make before the high court, said Wallach. A New Jersey victory in the Third Circuit would have a “seismic” impact, says Wallach, with other states then potentially lining up to follow New Jersey’s model.
Outside the courtroom, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a strong supporter of sports betting and author of the legislation in question, said that after hearing the arguments from both sides, he thinks it’s “advantage New Jersey.”
Lesniak said he expects the ruling to go in the state’s favor and noted that, when it happens, he’ll be ready to place the first bet.