Pro leagues file to stop New Jersey sports betting

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA filed papers in court Monday to stop New Jersey's plan to allow legal sports betting beginning this weekend, when gamblers could become the first in the nation outside Nevada to wager on single games.

The leagues filed a motion in federal court in Trenton seeking an injunction that would stop the state from allowing casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting under legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Chris Christie last Friday.

Monmouth Park, a horse track, is the only location that has said it's ready to accept wagers and has outfitted an area for a sports book operation. On its website, it announced it would "begin offering and accepting wagers on sporting contests and athletic events on Sunday, Oct. 26."

The bill signed by Christie effectively repealed the state's laws against sports gambling. That is seen as a way around a 1990s federal law that restricts state-sponsored sports gambling to Nevada and three other states. Of the three, only Delaware offers parlay betting in which bettors must correctly pick several games to win money.

The NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA, in their filing, say New Jersey's new law violates the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act by offering what amounts to state-sponsored sports gambling by restricting it to casinos and racetracks that are already heavily regulated by the state.

New Jersey's latest effort is "in clear and flagrant violation of federal law," the brief states, adding that the law Christie signed "is nothing more than a de facto authorization of sports gambling."

A spokesman for Christie didn't comment after the filing was made Monday, citing the pending litigation. Earlier in the day at a campaign event before the filing was released, Christie said, "We're moving forward. We'll see what happens."

It wasn't immediately clear when U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp would rule on the leagues' motion. He had been scheduled to hear arguments next month on whether he should modify his 2013 order prohibiting sports gambling in light of a subsequent appeals court ruling that sports gambling supporters saw as offering a legal justification. But acting state Attorney General John Hoffman withdrew the state's request for the hearing after Christie signed the law.

In that appellate opinion last November, the judges wrote that "we do not read PASPA to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering."

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding referendum on sports gambling in 2011, and Christie signed sports wagering legislation in early 2012. The pro leagues and the NCAA sued later that year, and Shipp and the appeals court ruled against the state's effort to have PASPA declared unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear New Jersey's appeal.

This summer, Christie vetoed an altered version of the sports wagering bill that would have removed sports betting from state control, but in early September he issued a directive for Hoffman not to prosecute casinos and racetracks that offered sports betting.

None of Atlantic City's casinos has released a plan to offer sports betting. A spokeswoman for the Meadowlands Racetrack said Monday the track had no plans to implement sports wagering and was taking a wait-and-see approach.


Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Morristown and Michael Catalini in Trenton contributed to this story.