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Supreme Court declines to hear plea for sports betting in N.J.

The Supreme Court let stand an injunction blocking New Jersey from legalizing sports betting. Pro sports associations argue that gambling undercuts the integrity of games.

Wayne Parry/AP/File
Discarded losing tickets litter the ground at Freehold Raceway in Freehold, N.J., in this file photo. The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a ban on sports gambling in New Jersey.

The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to examine a dispute between Gov. Chris Christie (R) and the nation’s leading sports associations – including the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) – over a halted plan in New Jersey to legalize sports betting.

The action by the high court came in a one-line order without additional comment by the justices.

It lets stand an injunction blocking New Jersey’s effort to bring sports betting to the Garden State.

The professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) opposed allowing sports betting in New Jersey, arguing that such gambling undercuts the integrity of sporting events.

They also cited a 1992 federal law that prohibited the promotion and licensing of sports wagering in all but four states – Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. At the time of its passage, New Jersey was offered the same exemption but declined.

Nineteen years later, New Jersey changed its mind.

Voters passed a referendum in 2011 supporting legalized betting on sports events at casinos and racetracks in the state. In response to the vote, the legislature enacted a law and state officials drew up regulations to introduce sports wagering.

The NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB responded by filing a lawsuit asking a federal judge to block sports betting in New Jersey.

The judge agreed and issued an injunction blocking state officials from moving forward with their plan. On appeal, a panel of the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld the injunction.

Three separate petitions were filed with the Supreme Court asking the justices to examine the issue. One petition was filed on behalf of Governor Christie; another was filed for Stephen Sweeney, president of the state Senate, and the third was filed on behalf of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

At issue in the case was the applicability of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which Congress enacted 22 years ago to prevent the spread sports gambling.

The law was aimed at undercutting the potentially corruptive influence of high-stakes wagering while helping to uphold the integrity of athletic competition in college and professional sports.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Christie’s lawyer, former US Solicitor General Theodore Olson, invoked principles of federalism to try to undercut the federal law.

PASPA “impermissibly trenches on the States’ authority to regulate their own citizens, and it does so in a manner that discriminates among the States,” Mr. Olson wrote.

“That double-barreled infringement on the sovereign prerogatives of the States calls out for review,” he told the justices.

The NCAA and professional sports leagues also retained a former US solicitor general to present their case, Paul Clement.

In his brief urging the high court to reject the case, Mr. Clement said New Jersey’s sports betting statute and accompanying regulations were “a blatant and unapologetic violation of PASPA.”

He noted that the New Jersey measure provided two exceptions to its sports betting provisions: The state would continue to prohibit any bets on college athletic events taking place in New Jersey and bar any bets on college sports of any New Jersey-based college or university no matter where they take place.

Clement said the two exceptions were apparently intended to shield New Jersey’s own colleges and universities “from the negative effects of the sports gambling it authorized.”

He rejected New Jersey’s federalism argument as “novel” and “meritless.”

“There is nothing remotely constitutionally suspect about the manner in which PASPA accomplishes its goal of stopping the spread of state-sponsored sports gambling,” Clement said.

He called the federal law “an unremarkable exercise of Congress’s settled power to regulate commerce in sports gambling and to protect [professional and collegiate] games.”

In his argument for New Jersey, Olson said the federal law impermissibly commandeered New Jersey into tailoring its regulatory authority to comply with federal policy preferences. That violates the federal-state balance of power required by the 10th Amendment, he said.

Olson said that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce directly, and has the full authority to enact a national ban on sports betting. Such a ban would preempt any conflicting state regulations.

But that’s not what Congress did in PASPA, Olson said. The federal law makes it illegal for a state to license, authorize, or promote sports betting.

That’s different, Olson said, than simply banning sports betting. By dictating the way states must regulate sports betting, the federal government is reaching into an area of exclusive state authority, he argued.

“Congress may express its own disapproval of sports wagering through direct regulation of the activity,” Olson said, “but, having declined to enact any such direct regulation, [Congress] has no authority to regulate the approval or disapproval expressed by the states.”

In addition to the two former solicitors general, the current solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, also weighed in on the case, urging the court to reject the petition.

He said the federal law raised no federalism concerns.

“PASPA does not obligate States to enact any law or to implement or administer any federal regulatory requirement,” Mr. Verrilli said in his brief. “Indeed, PASPA does not require States to do anything.”

Verrilli added: “New Jersey was able to comply with PASPA for more than 20 years without taking any legislative or administrative action and without expending any resources.”  

The cases were Christie v. NCAA (13-967), New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA (13-979), and Sweeney v. NCAA (13-980).

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