New Jersey's Christie Can Try Again to Win Sports Bet Law

  • Court throws out August ruling that upheld gambling ban
  • State's bid for legal wagering to get full court hearing

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got another shot at bringing sports gambling to his state’s casinos and racetracks when a federal appeals court agreed to reconsider his arguments for legalizing the practice.

A three-judge panel of the Philadelphia appeals court ruled in August that a state statute repealing a ban on sports betting can’t be used to circumvent a 1992 federal law barring those wagers in all but Nevada and three other U.S. states. The panel on Wednesday scrapped that ruling and granted Christie’s request for a rehearing before the entire court.

The decision is a win for Christie, a Republican, who is seeking to boost a shrinking gambling industry amid increased casino competition from neighboring states. The National Football League and four other sports organizations sued to block the law Christie signed in October 2014 that sought to overcome the legal hurdles.

“It’s anybody’s ballgame, but I believe New Jersey has the better of the arguments,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports and gambling attorney at Becker & Poliakoff PA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who’s been watching the case. “Granting a rehearing is a huge step.”

In August, the court panel sided with the leagues in ruling that New Jersey’s law would violate the U.S. Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA. That law bans sports betting in all but four states: Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.

Different Judges

Another panel of judges in the same appeals court rejected an attempt by New Jersey in 2013 to legalize gambling. That panel narrowly interpreted that PASPA permitted states to repeal their existing bans on sports wagering and determine for themselves the exact contours of any prohibition. 

New Jersey said it relied on that ruling when it crafted the 2014 law to partially repeal its pre-existing ban, but the August appeals panel said that still wasn’t enough to overcome the federal law.

Wallach said the panels’ differing approaches suggest there will be another divided decision. 

“It’s just a question of where does the majority lie,” he said. “All signs are pointing to the majority siding with New Jersey.”

No date has been set for the arguments yet.

The case is NCAA v. Governor, 14-4546, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia).

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