New Jersey, Christie Continue Battle For Legal Sports Betting

Updated on January 9, 2017
NJ sports betting & SCOTUS


New Jersey is hoping its Hail Mary on legal sports betting will end up as a score for the state.

The state is appealing its case to legalize sports betting within its borders to the US Supreme Court. Whether that appeal will be heard should be known within a week.

The backstory of the NJ sports betting case

In August of 2012, the NCAA and major pro sports leagues (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) sued New Jersey after the state passed a a law authorizing sports betting. These organizations argued that New Jersey’s plans to allow sports betting violated federal law and threatened the “character and integrity” of sporting events.

New Jersey ultimately lost that case, but it didn’t give up there.

NJ sports betting & SCOTUS

In 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that repealed prohibitions and allowed for casinos and horse racetracks to facilitate sports wagering. Legal challenges again stopped the law from taking effect.

The idea behind the 2014 bill was for the state to repeal its own sports betting prohibitions, in the hopes of passing muster under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). That is the federal law that prohibits single-game wagering everywhere except for Nevada.

But, after a federal judge sided with the sports leagues against New Jersey sports betting, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the initial decision on two occasions. That led to the current request for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

What is the NJ’s case on sports betting?

As James Madison asserted in Federalist No. 45, the powers of the federal government are “few and defined.” His assertions in that document are known as the “anti-commandeering doctrine.”

In layman’s terms, the federal government cannot force state or local governments to act against their will. Four Supreme Court opinions dating back to 1842 serve as the foundation for this legal doctrine.

Proponents of legal sports wagering suggest that with the enforcement of PASPA, Congress created a rule that disallows state law. If PASPA prohibits a state from repealing self-instituted prohibitions on sports gambling, it is in violation of the anti-commandeering doctrine.

When will the Supreme Court examine the case?

The eight current Supreme Court justices will decide whether to accept the appeal on Jan. 13. Their decision should be known on Jan. 17.

The ninth Supreme Court justice is expected to be nominated sometime after President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

The case would be heard later this year, if taken up.

Who will champion the sports betting in the future?

If New Jersey’s appeal is not heard, the state is unlikely to quit on the issue of sports betting.

Christie’s second term as governor of New Jersey is set to expire in 2018.  For sports betting proponents, state Sen. Ray Lesniak would be the obvious choice for the office. He has remained a strong supporter of sports betting in the state and was one of the architects of the framework allowing NJ gambling sites.

Regardless of who is elected, however, we can expect New Jersey and its legislature to remain on the front lines, battling for legal sports wagering.

Image credit: Erik Cox Photography /

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