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Ante Up! New Jersey Bets on Supreme Court to Hear Gambling Case

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

For the past four or five years now, New Jersey has been trying to legalize gambling in the Garden State. A 2012 law authorizing sports betting was struck down by courts, as was a 2014 statute repealing state prohibitions on gambling at racetracks and casinos. But it's this distinction -- between official state approval and tacit repeal of a prior ban -- that Jersey is betting on when it comes to the Supreme Court.

The biggest gamble, however, remains: the odds that the highest court in the land even hears the case.

The State of Federal Gambling Laws

New Jersey finalized its case for hearing at the end of December, and the Court will confer on whether to take up the case this Friday, January 13. If not, that would leave in place a lower federal court ruling that Jersey's 2014 law violated federal anti-gambling laws. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) makes it illegal for a governmental entity to "sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact ... a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based ... on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate."

New Jersey, via Governor Chris Christie, is arguing that this law, and especially the prior court's application of it to New Jersey's efforts to repeal its sports gambling ban, is unconstitutional and the federal government, while able to regulate citizens directly, may not "require the states to govern by Congress' instruction." Specifically, the Constitution does not allow "authorizing a federal court injunction mandating that a State reinstate prohibitions it has chosen to repeal." This is all legalese for, "It was our state ban in the first place, so we're allowed to repeal it."

Garden Variety Gambling

As we've noted before, New Jersey really missed its opportunity to cash in on sports betting back in '92. When PASPA was passed, it provided a one-year window for states -- like Jersey -- which already operated licensed casino gaming for ten years prior to legalize sports wagering. The state failed to stay in the game then, and now is forced to go all-in with its Supreme Court wager.

We'll find out in the coming weeks if the Court will call New Jersey's bluff.

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