Sports betting proponents preparing for a long legal road ahead

Andrew George//November 20, 2014//

Sports betting proponents preparing for a long legal road ahead

Andrew George//November 20, 2014//

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U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp heard nearly two hours of oral arguments last Thursday in what was the latest chapter of New Jersey’s ongoing efforts to bring sports betting to the state.Shipp said he’d issue a ruling by Friday. Walking out of the courtroom, Dennis Drazin wasn’t holding his breath.

“I do not think there’s any chance he’s going to rule in our favor,” said Drazin, legal adviser to Darby Development, which manages operations at Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport.

Here’s what’s expected: Shipp will rule in favor of the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA by issuing a permanent injunction against sports betting in the state. Appeals will then be quickly filed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, briefings will be in by the end of February and oral arguments will begin again sometime around April to May of next year.

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“There are going to be no surprises here,” Drazin added.

But even if Shipp were to surprise Drazin and rule in the state’s favor, the leagues would then file an appeal to the Third Circuit.

Either way, we’re looking at several months ahead of legal proceedings.

If this all sounds similar, that’s because it is. After Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation to permit sports betting in 2012 after a voter referendum on the issue had passed, the leagues filed a lawsuit to block the state from moving ahead with its plans on the grounds that it violated the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 22-year old federal law that limits sports betting to just four states.

The state lost then in Shipp’s courtroom. Then it appealed to the Third Circuit and lost again. A final plea to have the case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.

This time around, there’s a lot that’s similar with Shipp again expected to rule in favor of the leagues and the Third Circuit lined up as the next battleground.

But what’s different is that while the state was previously attempting to overturn PASPA, this time it’s just trying to circumvent it. The latest effort is centered on legislation sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and signed by Christie that seeks to repeal all state prohibitions against sports betting with the exceptions that it occur in a casino or racetrack and not be offered to anyone under the age of 21.

And it was the Third Circuit that gave this latest idea legs in the first place, noting in its previous decision that as long as a state is not affirmatively authorizing sports betting, then it is not violating PASPA.

Daniel Wallach, a Florida-based sports and gaming attorney who attended Thursday’s hearing, said that there was no more than a 1 percent chance that the state was going to get the ruling it wanted from Shipp.

But in the Third Circuit, Wallach says that goes up to anywhere from 25 percent to 50 percent.

“Only the Third Circuit can properly divine what the Third Circuit said,” Wallach said.

Drazin added that while the current legislation wasn’t necessarily built to win in the Third Circuit, it’s there that it stands the strongest.

However, if the state were to fail again in the Third Circuit, Wallach says it has no better chance of having its case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court than it did the last time.

Even if it doesn’t work out this time around, Wallach says he would expect the state to get creative and try again.

“New Jersey is nothing if not relentless…State government officials will not give up,” Wallach said.

Other specific elements to this case to watch include the ability of casinos and racetracks to offer fantasy sports wagering and if bets will be allowed to take place on sports not represented by the four major leagues and the NCAA, such as professional soccer and golf.


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