In a surprise move, the US Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will hear arguments in New Jersey’s case to legalize sports betting within its own borders, casting aside an opinion from the solicitor general that there was little for the Court to consider.

Raymond Lesniak, fighting for sports betting

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a longtime proponent of sports betting in New Jersey, said he is “very confident” that the Supreme Court will vote to allow New Jersey to take sports bets in their casinos. (Image: NJ.com)

The case could effectively repeal provisions of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), which could have implications for the future of legal sports betting across the United States.

New Jersey has long battled for the right to offer sports betting at its casinos and racetracks, which have suffered from increased competition from neighboring states in recent years. But it has been frustrated at every turn by litigation to stop it launched by professional and collegiate sports leagues.

Ongoing Legal Saga

To simplify a very complex legal saga, in 2013 New Jersey passed a law to authorize and regulate sports betting, which was challenged and defeated in the federal courts.

So, then the state passed a law repealing its own outdated statutes against sports betting. Rather than seeking to “authorize” the practice, which would be prohibited by PAPSA, it would simply choose not to enforce its own prohibition.

But this was once again challenged in court by the NFL and NCAA.

Eventually an appellate court ruled that “not enforcing” something was the same as “authorizing it.” New Jersey attorneys contend the court should share its concerns that PASPA violates its citizens’ Tenth Amendment rights.

“This federal takeover of New Jersey’s legislative apparatus is dramatic, unprecedented, and in direct conflict with this Court’s Tenth Amendment jurisprudence barring Congress from controlling how the States regulate private parties,” attorneys argue on behalf of the state in the filing.

“Never before has congressional power been construed to allow the federal government to dictate whether a State may repeal its own state-law prohibitions on private conduct.”

SCOTUS Turnabout

The Supreme Court had delayed a decision whether or not to hear the case in January, seeking instead the opinion of the acting solicitor general on the merits of New Jersey’s claims.

This offered sports betting advocates in New Jersey a glimmer of hope, as the court did not dismiss the state’s petition outright, as it does 98 percent of possible cases that come before it.

But when the solicitor general issued his opinion in May, many hopes from Atlantic City to Trenton were quickly dashed. Historically the court accepts the solicitor general’s recommendation. So this suggests the justices see something of importance to decide.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a longstanding champion in New Jersey’s sports betting quest, told NJ.com shortly after the decision that he is now “very confident” of the state’s chances of having the weight of PASPA lifted

“I’ve been knocked down five or six times,” he said. “You get a little groggy. But I never give up. And I expect to win.”