In the latest chapter of New Jersey’s fight to legalize sports betting, the case of “NCAA, et al vs. Governor of New Jersey, et al” reached the U.S Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, PA on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.
Two legal heavyweights entered the courthouse on that fated Wednesday: Theodore B. Olson, fighting for New Jersey, and Paul Clement, representing the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Both men were former United States solicitors generals, making them evenly matched in this years-long battle between New Jersey state and professional sports organizations.
The lawyers and their clients appeared before a panel of 12 judges in an en banc rehearing session, which is considered extremely uncommon for most cases reaching the Third Circuit courts. Those that do reach them tend to have better chances at a reversal of prior court rulings. This statistic alone added to Olson’s optimism regarding the appeal. However, the Third Circuit Courts will have six more months to deliberate before coming to a final ruling.
This is not the first time New Jersey has bucked under the federal government’s decision to ban sports betting in all but five states, the most prominent one being Nevada. In 1992, professional sports leagues petitioned Congress to sanction the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which forbade states without legal sports betting from later adding it. As a result, Nevada became home to the largest sports betting monopoly in the United States.
Despite this law, New Jersey lawmakers attempted to legalize sports betting in 2012. When the leagues sued, New Jersey lawyers argued that PAPSA was unconstitutional, but to no avail. The rebel state was also rejected in their first federal appeal.
However, the judges left the door open for New Jersey lawmakers to remove state laws banning sports betting, allowing state citizens to wage bets and hope the federal government remains uninvolved. This same open door opportunity was what the appeal courts offered Colorado and Washington, the two states that legalized marijuana.
For fear of enabling enthusiastic bookies, Governor Chris Christie did not want to remove the ban entirely. He instead opted to partially relieve the prohibition on sports betting in 2014. Instead of a complete embargo, Christie declared all casinos and racetracks open for waging bets. Despite the partial repeal, the leagues sued again.
Junior Pooja Sonikar says, “I agree with the Leagues and their persistence in upholding PASPA. Sports betting should be illegal. In my opinion, even though I don’t know much about sports, betting usually causes the average person to find themselves in a world of danger and financial problems that they normally would not venture into.”
The current case focuses on six particularly controversial words in the PASPA. The law says that states cannot “authorize, sponsor, operate, promote, advertise or license” sports betting. The leagues argue that allowing state-licensed casinos and racetracks to place money on sports equates to New Jersey authorizing and licensing the bets. Despite the state’s tenacity, some New Jersey citizens side with the sports professionals.
However, New Jersey lawmakers are counting on a successful appeal to help rebuild Atlantic City’s economy. The decline of the casino business over the years is what caused the state government to push against PASPA and the leagues in 2012. With the casinos and racetracks able to wage bets, Atlantic City’s economy would slowly make its comeback. Locals were pleased with this possibility, missing Atlantic City’s boardwalk energy.
Junior Shrina Parikh said, “When I was younger, we went to Atlantic City quite a bit. In the recent years that I’ve been there for concerts and stuff, the vibe hasn’t been the same. I feel like [Hurricane] Sandy and the dying casinos really hit the place hard. I hope whatever the state government does brings Atlantic City’s energy back.”
Unfortunately, others outside of New Jersey recognize the possible detriment a successful appeal could cause. Having reached the Third Circuit courts, a New Jersey victory in this case would allow all other states in the Third Circuit, such as Pennsylvania and Delaware, to also lift their ban on sports betting.
What does this mean for the rest of America? While the other circuit courts are not beholden to the Third Circuit court, either decision made will set a precedent for other cases in other courts. A successful appeal could be devastating for the leagues and the essential death of PASPA.
As it is, Americans placed an estimated $4.1 billion of illegal bets on 2016’s Super Bowl L, evidence that for the average person living in the United States, PASPA and the ban on sports betting has never before proved encumbering in daily life.
Have you been affected by PASPA? If it were more strictly enforced or repealed, what would change in your life?