New Jersey asked voters today if they wanted sports gambling in their state. New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved this sports betting proposal. Sports bets would be accepted in Atlantic City as well as at horse tracks throughout the state, even tracks that are no longer open could reopen with sportsbooks. Bets could be placed on all pro sports and all college sports that did not take place in New Jersey and did not involve colleges in New Jersey.
Las Vegas should not be concerned. The local bookies in New Jersey should not concerned either. Delaware, who brought back sports betting after 33 years, should not be concerned about their neighbor taking their sports betting action away either. Few should care about the referendum in New Jersey because sports betting there is not going to happen, at least not any time soon.
Non Binding Vote
New Jersey voters were asked about their opinion on sports betting. The vote itself was non binding though. No law has passed the New Jersey legislature. There has only been a proposal up to this point. This referendum was only to gauge public sentiment towards such a controversial topic. The next step is to pass it through the state legislature. Governor Christie, who vetoed New Jersey’s online poker regulations earlier this year due to state constitutional concerns, supports New Jersey sports betting even though there are many legal issues involved. If it passes the legislature he will likely sign it. Even if he signs it, there are many obstacles ahead.
Long Legal Fight Ahead for New Jersey
This is a very complicated matter. The Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992, also referred to as the Bradley Act, forbids 46 states from offering sports betting. The person the law is named after, Senator Bill Bradley, represented New Jersey and was a big supporter of the law. The law carved out a way for New Jersey to get exempted, but New Jersey failed to act in time. The law gave states that had casinos for at least ten years, which at the time was only New Jersey, one year from the day the law went into effect to legalize sports gambling. New Jersey failed to do so, creating this situation.
Sports Leagues Vs Delaware
In 2009, Delaware took advantage of their exemption under the Bradley Act to bring back sports gambling. Single game wagers across many sports leagues were going to be offered. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and the NCAA were not happy about it and filed suit against Delaware claiming that even though Delaware was exempted by the Bradley Act, they could only offer the same betting that they offered in 1976. For that one year, Delaware offered 3 or more team parlay cards on NFL games.
While Delaware prevailed in the lower courts, the sports leagues won where it mattered. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the sports leagues. Delaware appealed it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to hear their case. Even though Delaware was exempted from the Bradley Act, they were forced to revert back to the NFL parlay cards that they used in 1976 and abandon their plans to offer other sports.
New Jersey May Find Same Fate
New Jersey had their chance to pass sports gambling and get exempted and they failed to do it. Now they have a huge uphill battle ahead. It has to pass their legislature, get signed by the governor, survive what will be a long court challenge by the sports leagues while at the same time fighting their own court battle with the feds trying to get the Bradley Act ruled unconstitutional. There will be some big checks written to lawyers for all of these battles. Considering the Supreme Court refused to hear the Delaware case, it is hard to imagine them changing their mind for New Jersey. Delaware likely had a better case, although the constitutional battle was not the focal point. If the Supreme Court will not hear this case, then only Congress can repeal the law.
As the online poker lobby will tell you, good luck getting something through Congress gambling related, no matter how much the public supports it. An attempt to repeal the Bradley Act will have every sports league lobbying hard against it, as well as all of the usual anti gambling groups. There may even be casino companies lobbying against its repeal. New Jersey is not likely to find many groups that will support their side.
Even More Unique Situation Than Delaware
Unlike Delaware where there are no pro teams, New Jersey is home to four pro teams. New York City’s two NFL teams play in New Jersey. One NHL team and one NBA team also call New Jersey home. This is something else that will incense the sports leagues. When Oregon had their Sports Action lottery, the NBA took them to court even though Portland Trailblazer games were not offered. Oregon’s lottery decided to drop NBA betting after one year which ended the lawsuit. Even though college sports were not offered by Oregon, the NCAA refused to hold any tournaments in Oregon out of protest of the Sports Action lottery. Sports Action was dropped after the 2006 NFL season. Considering the legal problems that arose from Oregon with only one pro team, there is little doubt that four pro teams will cause an even bigger storm.
How Does Las Vegas Feel About the Spread of Sports Gambling?
Another issue to consider is that the casinos in Atlantic City that are owned by Las Vegas companies may not get behind any battle that tries to throw out the Bradley Act. While New Jersey is across the country and little threat, the last thing Nevada wants is to see other states bring in sports gambling. Single game sports betting is only allowed in Nevada, and I would have to think the Nevada casino companies want to keep it that way. They certainly do not want state lotteries and race tracks getting a piece of it.
With the spread of gambling in the U.S. Nevada needs something that helps make it unique. Allowing any state that wants sports gambling to have it is not in Nevada’s best interest. Nevada casino companies may find themselves lobbying the same side as the sports leagues that have never seen eye to eye with them.
Don’t get me wrong, I am on the side of New Jersey. I think the Bradley Act is absurd and not a law that the federal government should be allowed to have. Unfortunately for New Jersey it exists. Getting bad laws reversed can takes years if not decades in this country. Being in the online poker industry, I understand the situation New Jersey is in. This will be an interesting battle that will likely take years to settle.