Today is a crucial day for New Jersey in its mission to legalize sports betting, as it will argue its position on the issue against attorneys for the four major American professional sports leagues and the NCAA this morning in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Attorney Theodore B. Olson, who represents New Jersey in this action, plans to argue that U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp erred in ruling that that New Jersey’s partial repeal of its prohibition against sports wagering violates the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (“PAPSA”). New Jersey will likely also assert that the professional sports leagues have “unclean hands” due to their partnerships with fantasy sports websites.
While it is true that some sports leagues have recently embraced pay-fantasy sports websites, the leagues remain steadfast in their quest to thwart New Jersey’s legalization efforts. They believe that PAPSA clearly prohibits the 46 states not exempted from the act’s application from legalizing sports betting in any fashion.
The Third Circuit has previously ruled in favor of the sports leagues, but the Court’s prior Opinion potentially provided the state with a loophole – it acknowledged that even under PAPSA, states have “much room . . . to make their own policy” and can establish their own parameters of sports betting prohibitions. New Jersey will assuredly use that language in support of its argument today.
Led by Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey has been undeterred by many unfavorable court decisions in the two-plus years since the sports leagues initially sued to prevent the state from commencing sports betting. While nearly all casinos and racetracks in New Jersey have seen revenues decrease each of the last few years, the state and its casino/racetrack owners believe that sports betting could reverse their fortunes and bring in millions of dollars yearly.
Whether the Third Circuit will continue to affirm the sports leagues’ position that PAPSA prevents New Jersey from having authority to legalize sports betting remains to be seen. What is certain is that today’s oral argument and the resulting decision is extremely crucial in determining the future of potential sports betting in New Jersey, in addition to many other states that may wish to follow its lead.