New Jersey's attempt to legalize sports gambling denied by appeals court

Yolanda Curtis
August 10, 2016

The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state in 2012, claiming the expansion of legal sports betting would damage the integrity of their games and lead to more game-fixing.

New Jersey sports betting has been denied by a federal appeals court, despite the best efforts of Gov. Chris Christie and others in the Garden State looking to resurrect its struggling casinos and racetracks. Judge Julio Fuentes wrote that New Jersey's action repealing laws against sports gambling didn't mean it was actually authorizing sports gambling.

"Because PASPA, by its terms, prohibits states from authorizing by law sports gambling, and because the 2014 law does exactly that, the 2014 law violates federal law", Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote. This law was passed in 1992 and effectively banned sports gambling almost everywhere except places like Las Vegas.


The U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled Tuesday that a 2014 New Jersey law partially repealing a ban on sports betting ran afoul of a 1992 federal law.

"We do have two judges dissenting", Lesniak said, "and we certainly will take a shot at the Supreme Court".

New Jersey had argued that PASPA unnecessarily binds the hands of states, depriving them of making their own determination of sports betting's legality, in essence, giving them only a binary choice between full prohibition or full repeal, and thus contravening the commandeering clause of the US Constitution. States that have legalized DFS could argue that the Department of Justice is selectively enforcing PASPA by prohibiting sports gambling but allowing legalized DFS.


One dissenting judge thought the 2014 law permissible despite PASPA. While the Court found fault with New Jersey's partial repeal, Rendell wrote that "other options may pass muster".

The uniqueness of the judicial votes induced the Third Circuit in October to vacate the latter ruling pending an appearance by attorneys for each side before a dozen of the Circuit's judges in an "en banc" hearing. State Senator Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth who sponsored the gambling bill signed by Christie in 2014, didn't immediately respond to a voicemail message.

Through a spokesman, the National Football League declined to comment. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp, a Paterson native, ruled in favor of the leagues in February 2013, writing that the state should seek a repeal by getting Congress to change its sports betting ban.


However, the National Hockey League recently awarded an expansion team to Las Vegas, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been a public proponent of legalizing sports betting. Almost six months after the Third District Court of Appeals came together in Philadelphia for a rare en banc hearing to listen to New Jersey make its case, the federal appeals court ruled in favor of the NCAA.

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