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New Jersey Officials Celebrate Supreme Court Ruling On Sports Betting

May 14, 2018 - 11:38 am

WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

One research firm estimated before the ruling that if the Supreme Court were to strike down the law, 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

"The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court.

The court's decision came in a case from New Jersey, which has fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the state. Then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said after arguments in the case in December that if justices sided with the state, bets could be taken "within two weeks" of a decision.

On Monday, after the ruling was announced, Christie tweeted that it was a "great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions." The state's current governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, also cheered the ruling, saying he was "thrilled" to see the high court strike down the "arbitrary ban." He said he looks forward to working with the legislature to "enact a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future."

There were eight previous losses in court, but New Jersey has finally beaten the odds.

"It's a major victory for the states, especially New Jersey," said State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). "We knew this was coming and we have legislation that has been drafted that I'm going to release today."

Recently retired State Sen. Ray Lesniak spearheaded the charge for sports betting and he thinks this is huge.

"Thousands of jobs are saved, thousands of jobs created, hundreds-of millions of dollars for the state, the indirect revenue is going to be enormous," Lesniak said.

It's possible that the first to market with sports betting in New Jersey will be a racetrack at the Jersey shore. Monmouth Park has already set up a sports book operation and has previously estimated it could take bets within two weeks of a favorable Supreme Court ruling.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) also told WCBS 880’s Michael Wallace that the ruling was a “huge win” for New Jersey.

“It means that we can now start sports betting at our racetracks and our casinos, and that’s going to be a real shot in the arm for them, because, as you know, to some extent they’ve been struggling,” he said.

Pallone said the ruling would bring in a new cache of sports fans and betters who would benefit the racetracks and casinos.

He said some facilities could start sports betting almost right away.

“Monmouth Park, which is in my district in Oceanport, New Jersey, has been anticipating it, but I think they’re ready to go any day, to be honest,” he said. “They’ve already invested in a facility. They’re building a new facility, and, you know, they probably can get started within the next few days or weeks.”

Pallone said he didn’t have a “ballpark” as to how much money legalized sports betting would generate for New Jersey, but he said the greatest benefit is that it would bring sports betting dollars into the state and local economy rather than keep them in the hands of the black market.

“When people say, I mean, ‘Why do we have to do this?’ well right now, this is a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds organized crime,” Pallone said. “It certainly makes sense to bring it, you know, into the light and have the state and the local economy benefit from it rather than it having be done illegally and helping, you know, organized criminals.”

Pallone noted that he already has a bill, the Game Act, in committee in Congress to set “standards and parameters” for sports betting.

It’s necessary to do that, because some states like New Jersey have legislation, but many states do not. But I do want to stress that we would only be, you know, setting standards in terms of, you know, protecting privacy; protecting people’s interests; making sure that, you know, there’s no unscrupulous activity,” he said.

He also noted that states that do not want to host sports betting would have to do so.

Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, said his Atlantic City casino will "absolutely" offer sports betting once it can get it up and running. "It's been a long time coming," he said.

But Keith Whyte, the executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling, said legalized sports betting could pose a problem for people with gambling addictions.

“We’re concerned that this massive expansion of gambling, which we think is the largest potential expansion in our nation’s history, will increase gambling addiction, unless, you know, the stakeholders really get together and try and figure out how to minimize the harm that’s coming their way,” Whyte said.

He said states need to step up and increase funding to prevent problem gambling, as New Jersey has already done. He also called on professional sports leagues to put money back into prevention programs since they may be profiting from problem gamblers, and called on the media to do issue public service announcements about problem gambling.

More than a dozen states had supported New Jersey, which argued that Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the law barring states from authorizing sports betting. New Jersey said the Constitution allows Congress to pass laws barring wagering on sports, but Congress can't require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.

All four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey's gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. Outside court, however, leaders of all but the NFL have shown varying degrees of openness to legalized sports gambling.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

New Jersey has spent years and millions of dollars in legal fees trying to legalize sports betting at its casinos, racetracks and former racetracks. In 2012, with voters' support, New Jersey lawmakers passed a law allowing sports betting, directly challenging the 1992 federal law which says states can't "authorize by law" sports gambling. The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, and the state lost in court.

In 2014, New Jersey tried a different tactic by repealing laws prohibiting sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. It argued taking its laws off the books was different from authorizing sports gambling. The state lost again and then took the case to the Supreme Court.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)