No one had expected it to happen this way, but with a few exceptions, backers of sports betting in New Jersey say they are fine with Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to go ahead with implementation and let the NFL and federal government take their best swing in court.
“So sue me,” Christie in essence is telling anyone who doesn’t agree with him or the casinos and tracks which now have received the go-ahead to start taking bets on most pro and college games.
The announcement must have gone down like picnic skunk at Las Vegas sportsbooks, which have held what amounts to a near half-century business monopoly. Sole proprietorship of sports betting has enabled the Strip casinos to become the country’s only destination for Super Bowl and NCAA March Madness bettors. Now, three time zones to the east, there will be competition. And if things go right, who knows what the future holds nationally.
But before Atlantic City casinos and its four racetracks carve out space for their own books, there is plenty of heavy lifting to do. For example, there is the small matter of defiance of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Many legal experts consider PASPA a clear violation of states’ rights, but any time a battalion of lawyers with an unlimited supply of billable hours gets involved, who knows what’s in store?
Nelson Rose, the leading legal authority in the country, author of the well-read blog “Gambling and the Law” and a legal advisor to several states and casinos, tossed a Dixie cup of cold water on New Jersey’s plan:
“I would tell my clients not to be involved in this in any way,” Rose said from Macau in an e-mail to Covers. “I think the NFL is going to file an injunction long before fall. And the feds are looking at the same thing, plus possibly even criminal charges, under the Wire Act and RICO [Racketeer and Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act].
“I think the federal statute, PASPA, is unconstitutional. But the way to challenge it is in the courts. It is bizarre that a sitting governor would show such contempt for the law.”
Christie, for his part, had most everyone shaking their heads. After signing into law a bill which authorized New Jersey to challenge PASPA, Christie infuriatingly sat on his thumbs for months while he toured the country as a surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Christie’s moves in the last few days and his defiant comment (“If someone wants to stop us,” he said in an obvious reference to the NFL and the federal government, “then let them try to stop us”) pretty much turned the lights out on him becoming Romney’s running mate.
New Jersey figures that it has built a castle strong enough to withstand an attack from the DoJ and the NFL: The voters favored legalized sports betting by a 2-1 margin last November, the legislature has passed (and Christie has signed) legislation to amend the state constitution, nationally the issue has gained backing, and PASPA clearly gives one state (Nevada) an unfair economic advantage over the remaining 49.
More details about how New Jersey plans to implement sports betting will be on the way in the next few weeks, but in the meantime there are lots of questions and not many answers. Among the main concerns is exposure.
Sportsbook managers like both-sides action because it precludes the chance of a major hit in a particular game. Now the casinos and tracks which are privately owned have to wonder who is on the hook for lawyer fees (and, as Rose postulates, potential criminal charges, when/if the books defy the federal government).
As one reader mentioned in a comment posted in the San Diego Union: “So will Christie cover the betting halls’ losses when the feds come in and shut them down?”
The same thing was obviously on the mind of Tony Rodio, president of the Tropicana in Atlantic City: “I love the idea of playing offense and having the federal government have to play defense against us,” Rodio was quoted as saying. “But I don’t know who’s going to want to be the first to open knowing they (the federal government) can shut you down. We’d need a lot more clarity before we invested lots of money in a sports book.”
At Monmouth, one of four race tracks in New Jersey, the news was as welcome as a glass of ice-cold lemonade in late July. “We’re behind the governor,” said Dennis Drazin, chairman and general counsel at Monmouth. “If they try to stop it, we’re certain that the governor and the [New Jersey] attorney general will have the proper response.”
It’s important to bear in mind that the Trop is a private company, while Monmouth is actually owned by the state and leased to AC’s Resorts Casino, so it’s unclear who would pick up Monmouth’s legal bills if the feds knock on the door.
NFL lawyers, meanwhile, more than have their hands full with lawsuits filed by former players claiming that the league didn’t do enough to protect them from concussions suffered on the field, and the last thing Park Avenue suits need is another legal battle. And if the NFL does decide to jump into the sport betting thicket, it needs to be prepared to explain in open court why sports betting is evil but other forms of gambling which help it make money (casino advertising) or build stadiums (Minnesota) are OK.
And there are plenty of photos available of Steve Wynn shaking hands with Patriots owner Bob Kraft when the two tried (and failed) to build a casino in Foxboro across from Gillette Stadium.
About the same time Christie was announcing New Jersey’s move, the feds were charging more than a dozen New Jersey hoodlums with running an illegal sports betting ring. That brought a Tweet from long time sports betting lobbyist Joe Brennan Jr.: “DoJ: Cleaning out the competition in NJ before legal sports betting takes effect?”
Looks like it.
Editor's note: ProFootballTalk.com made a great point in a post Sunday about how Delaware and New Jersey are in the same Judicial Circuit. Delaware, as Mike Florio points out, tried to make the same case to the courts on single-game wagering and lost. Its appeal was also passed by the Supreme Court.