Chris Christie to push for Atlantic City sports wagering

Oct 30, 2012 3:00 AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bid to overturn a federal prohibition and bring sports wagering to Atlantic City casinos is due for an important December test in a federal court at Trenton.

The hearing is set for Dec. 18, but a source familiar with the case cautioned, “it could be changed at a moment’s notice. Who knows what the ripple effects of Election Day might be?”

All the hearings concerning this case are important since it is an example of the commercial gaming industry pushing forward toward a place it has never gone before with sports betting; that is, taking it beyond Nevada in a big way. Few state officials have ever been as assertive as Christie has been with arguments that he says serve the best interests of his state, which leans heavily on casinos in southern Jersey.

Optimistic pro-gaming forces can see this leading to the kind of high level casino action that Las Vegas experiences during Super Bowl weekend and that extended annual NCAA basketball event known as “March madness.”

One of the factors that could produce a change is, of course, the Nov. 6 election with its possibilities for a change in the high command at the Justice Department. The Obama administration is widely perceived to have little interest in opposing New Jersey’s effort to add sports betting to the city’s gaming options. On the other hand, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is no friend to any kind of gaming expansion.

But it is the sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NCAA, etc.,) themselves that are taking New Jersey to court.

It’s a fascinating confrontation as New Jersey argues that the opposition of the leagues is unconstitutional because Congress had no business approving legislation that allows the leagues to have a standing for such courtroom encounters. The 1992 decision of lawmakers to give leagues the right to contest violations of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a piece of legislation that prohibited any kind of sports betting in all but four states – New Jersey missed a window of opportunity to legalize it.

Delaware came close to making the current action unnecessary when it tried several years ago to offer wide open sports betting at three tracks. The state was one of the four exempted states in the 1992 passage of PASPA. The NFL blocked the Delaware effort, arguing the state was limited to parlays, in this case three-team parlays.

Delaware appealed that ruling and two of the three judges on the appeals court panel appeared sympathetic to the state’s argument, pointing out that years of sports betting in Nevada did not appear to have damaged the NFL’s product or stunted its soaring popularity.

But a lawyer familiar with the case who shared his feelings on the condition he not be identified by name or affiliation, said it was the “passionate opposition” of the third judge that appeared to ultimately carry the day.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined without explanation to hear the appeal. Pro-expansion forces went back to the design table and came up with the arguments now being used to challenge the constitutionality of PASPA.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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