During the first hearing on standing in the New Jersey sports betting case on Dec. 18, a look around the small court room would have told an unaware observer this case was no precedent-setting matter of national importance.
Griffin Finan (@G_Finan), an attorney at Ifrah Law in Washington D.C., was one of the handful there from the beginning and said there were still seats available in a court that was only three benches deep.
Now, with the Department of Justice joining the major pro sports leagues and the NCAA in their fight, and California, Minnesota and New Jersey Congressmen all introducing bills recently to legalize sports betting, things are heating up.
The court room was packed this time during Thursday’s oral argument in Trenton and an overflow room with a closed circuit television had to be set up so the host of lawyers and media could watch the proceedings.
“This is a big deal,” Finan told Covers after making the trip to New Jersey again on Thursday.
Indeed it is. Maybe the biggest deal sports bettors have seen in our lifetimes. And its fate lies in the hands of a relatively new judge, whose decision will have a huge national ripple effect, both legally and economically.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp said Thursday he’ll have a decision in the case within two weeks after hearing arguments from both sides. Finan said he didn’t get any sense leaving New Jersey of which way the judge would rule, but he and most other experts feel this case will go to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit no matter which way it goes.
“It did seem that Judge Shipp was very interested in the anti-commandeering arguments so it would not surprise me if the case was decided on his opinion on those issues,” said Finan. “The anti-commandeering principle prohibits the federal government from imposing duties on state legislators or executive officials to carry out a federal initiative.”
If the judge does rule in favor of New Jersey, Senator Ray Lesniak, who helped spearhead the sports betting initiative in New Jersey, said this week that sportsbooks could be up and running within two months. The books would be operated through casinos and racetracks. However, Finan points out the leagues could seek an injunction to prevent the state from moving forward, pending appeal.
So what are the chances of sports bettors getting a win here? It’s really hard to say. There’s not much to go on in terms of past rulings.
“The Third Circuit has heard prior appeals on PASPA, but has never directly addressed the constitutionality of the statute,” said Finan. “The leagues have argued that the Third Circuit’s prior decision in Office of the Commissioner of Baseball v. Markell, implies that they have standing in the case, though New Jersey disputes that and the decision does not directly address the issue of standing. “
So for now, we hold our breath. We should know within two weeks.