Judge Bars Christie-Backed Sports Betting Law in New Jersey

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Governor Chris Christie
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

A federal judge barred New Jersey from implementing a law backed by Governor Chris Christie that would allow betting on professional sports at casinos and racetracks, prompting the state to pursue an appeal.

The law, signed Oct. 17, violates a 22-year-old federal statute that bans sports betting in all but Nevada and three other states, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton ruled yesterday. The National Football League and four other sports organizations sued to block the new law.

Shipp’s ruling is a setback for Christie as he seeks to boost the state’s shrinking gambling industry amid increased casino competition from neighboring states. Four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos closed this year, and a fifth may shut its doors. Shipp said the law violates the U.S. Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA.

“This violation constitutes irreparable harm requiring the issuance of a permanent injunction,” Shipp wrote in his opinion.

Christie, a Republican, signed a similar law in 2012 that Shipp blocked, saying it violated PASPA. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia upheld that ruling, prompting lawmakers to devise the new statute, which repeals all regulations about sports wagering at casinos and racetracks.

The state filed a notice yesterday that it would appeal the ruling.

Senator Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth who sponsored the bill, said he and Christie expected the decision.

‘Lock, Stock, Barrel’

“Judge Shipp has sided with the leagues all along -- lock, stock and barrel,” Lesniak said. “We can’t get away from Judge Shipp and before the Third Circuit soon enough.”

The suit was filed by the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Monmouth Park Racetrack, a private facility once run by the state, had sought to offer NFL betting as early as Oct. 26 after the new law was enacted. The racetrack backed off after Shipp issued a temporary order blocking the law on Oct. 25.

Shipp ruled at the time that the leagues and NCAA “established a reasonable likelihood of success” in showing the new law violates the federal law. He also said betting could lead to “irreparable harm” by stigmatizing the leagues with gambling’s negative perception.

Betting Vote

New Jersey voters approved a non-binding amendment to the state constitution to allow sports betting in 2011.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, said the economic impact of sports wagering “is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on.”

He said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s support for expanded legalized sports betting is “an encouraging step forward.”

The case is National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Christie, 14-cv-06450, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).

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