Supreme Court to hear NJ sports gambling ban challenge

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(Reuters)

The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday it will hear New Jersey’s challenge of the federal ban against sports betting, in a case that could have broader implications for the future legality of sports wagers nationwide.

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The justices say they will review a lower court ruling against the state, which is hoping to capture some of the estimated $150 billion that is illegally wagered on sports each year.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature have tried for years to legalize sports gambling to bolster the state’s casino and horse racing industries. The casino industry, after a period of job losses and closings, has lately been doing better. The case will be argued in the fall.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case,” said Geoff Freeman, CEO of the American Gaming Association, a group that lobbies on behalf of the casino industry. “We are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”

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A federal ban on sports betting has been in place since 1992, when legislators, with the support of professional sports leagues and the NCAA, passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA. Supporters have argued for years that the federal ban is essential to protect the integrity of sporting events and to guard against corruption.

Opposition to the ban has softened in recent years. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has openly called for a legal, regulated sports gambling market, while MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred and MLS Commissioner Don Garber have called for a reexamination of the federal ban.

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The NFL remains publicly opposed to legalized sports betting, but league owners recently approved the Oakland Raiders’ proposed relocation to Las Vegas, one of the few venues that currently allows for legal sports betting. An NHL expansion franchise in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights, will begin play this fall.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear New Jersey’s challenge is the latest development in the state’s years-long battle to legalize sports betting. Speaking on a sports radio show this month, Christie criticized the federal government for restricting sports betting while simultaneously allowing states to legalize recreational marijuana even though it's illegal under federal law.

The court jumped into the case even after the Trump administration urged the justices not to get involved.

The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state after Christie signed a law in 2014 to allow sports betting.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the New Jersey law last year, ruling that the law violated the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that forbids state-authorized sports gambling.

Legal sports gambling is allowed in Nevada and three other states that already had approved some form of wagering before the federal law went into effect. Nevada is the only state to allow single-game wagering.

Congress gave New Jersey a one-time opportunity to become the fifth state before the ban was enacted, but the state failed to pass a sports betting law in the required time window.

Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wisconsin had joined New Jersey's effort to have the case heard by the Supreme Court.

In 2014, the Supreme Court rejected New Jersey’s earlier challenge to the federal law.

The case has lasted nearly as long as Christie has been in office. New Jersey voters passed a referendum to allow sports betting in 2011.

This month the American Gaming Association announced the creation of a coalition involving organizations of attorneys general and police, policymakers and others to advocate for the repeal of the ban that the industry says has fueled the $150 billion illegal sports betting market.

The groups cited research that showed legalizing sports betting in the U.S. could support more than 150,000 jobs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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