Department of Justice Joins Legal Battle Against New Jersey Sports Betting Law

DOJ to argue against NJ Sports Betting Law

A pitted legal battle over the introduction of sports betting in New Jersey was kicked up a notch this week with the United States Department of Justice’s filing of papers to join an action designed to stop New Jersey’s plans.

The DOJ’s latest filing, in support of a lawsuit brought by the NCAA and major sports leagues, is part of a continuing attempt to short-circuit a referendum that was passed by New Jersey voters in 2011 and signed into law by NJ Governor Chris Christie in 2012.

New Jersey’s passage of the law authorizing sports betting was itself a challenge to the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which declared sports betting to be legal only in four states. Exceptions to the national ban are Nevada, for most forms of sports betting, and Delaware, Oregon and Montana, for limited forms of parlay betting running in conjunction with state lotteries.

New Jersey has protested the alleged unconstitutionality of the federal ban for nearly two decades, since the inception of the 1992 law, which was heavily backed by professional sports’ and the NCAA’s powerful lobbying interests.

The next steps in the brewing legal battle are New Jersey’s response to the DOJ’s filing, which is due by February 1, and the first hearings in the case, which are scheduled for February 14.

New Jersey state Senator Ray Lesniak, one of that state’s most ardent pro-gambling supporters, acknowledged that the federal move was expected, if not welcome. “I didn’t expect the Justice Department to come in and intervene in the case, but it’s no great moment,” said Lesniak to local news outlets.

Christie has also signified his willingness to continue the fight for New Jersey’s voter-approved interests. The sports betting law, already on the books, is entirely separate from the online-gambling bill currently on Christie’s desk that awaits a February 7 deadline for a Christie signing or veto, with that bill also scheduled to become law (and approving New Jersey online poker in the process), if Christie fails to act.

Christie’s recently raised objections to the separate online-gambling measure—which many onlookers have viewed as a precursor to a coming veto—may also be simply a matter of the Republican governor carving himself future wiggle room on gambling matters.

Christie’s noted national aspirations depend on achieving broad-based GOP support, yet anti-gambling planks remain a part of the GOP’s national platform and have been a hot-button cause for some right-wing social groups, who view gambling in general and online gambling in particular as a societal vice to be battled.

As such, Christie’s unwillingness to be tied too closely to too many pro-gambling issues in a short time frame has political logic behind it.