New Jersey’s attempt to defy federal law and start offering sports betting through Atlantic City casinos was always a long shot: the kind of bet you make at the beginning of the year when your favorite team has no real chance to win a title. Now, the season is over for Governor Chris Christie, and it has become clear that his gamble isn’t going to pay off.
The Supreme Court of the United States issued a brief written order Monday, declining to review the decision by a federal appeals court to keep a ban on sports betting in New Jersey (and most other states) in place. That ruling had determined that New Jersey was unable to offer licensing for such wagers because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which outlawed all new sports betting, while grandfathering in existing betting in Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.
New Jersey had argued that the law was unconstitutional, and voters in the state passed a referendum back in 2011 to allow sports betting in Atlantic City and at horse-racing tracks. Lawmakers backed that up with legislation to allow betting on most contests (with exceptions for some collegiate contests taking place in the state), which in turn led the four major professional American sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to sue the state to stop the state’s sports betting plan from going into effect.
Governor Christie and other New Jersey officials had hoped to argue their case on the grounds of states’ rights, saying that the 1992 law infringed on the state’s sovereignty. They also claimed that the law was discriminatory, as it allowed only certain states to offer sports betting.
The sports leagues and the federal government countered this argument by pointing out that New Jersey had a one-year period after the 1992 law was passed during which they could have received an exemption if they started offering sports betting. However, New Jersey passed up this opportunity, and the state knew the consequences of doing so. The sports organizations also claimed that increased state-sponsored betting would threaten the integrity of their games.
Many in New Jersey had hoped that the fact that one federal appeals judge had ruled in their favor was promising, perhaps suggesting that there was enough merit to their case for the Supreme Court to at least hear it. But that was not to be, as the court declined to review the case without comment.
The Supreme Court actually rejected three separate appeals of three related cases: one from the state (Christie v. NCAA), one from state lawmakers (Sweeny v. NCAA), and one by the state’s horse racing trade group (New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association vs. NCAA).
But despite the resounding defeat, experts say there are still ways in which the 1992 ban on sports betting could be attacked in the future.
“One [scenario] is another state in another circuit decides that it wants to do what New Jersey did and legalize sports betting, and that the circuit in which that state sits decides the case differently,” gambling industry lawyer Chris Soriano told CBS Philly. “If that were to happen you would have a split, where you would have two Circuit Court of Appeals interpreting the statute differently.”