As New Jersey sports betting court case inches along, congressmen pursue legislative path

The recent surge in companies offering fantasy sports leagues with big payouts to participants could help New Jersey's stalled attempt to allow legal sports gambling, a congressman involved in the effort said Monday.

At a panel discussion hosted by the International Centre for Sport Security, Rep. Frank Pallone renewed his call for a closer look at the fantasy leagues and their relationship to the four major professional sports leagues, all of which joined in a lawsuit with the NCAA three years ago to stop New Jersey from allowing sports betting on individual games.

Separate legislation proposed in 2012 by Pallone, a Democrat, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, to allow the expansion of sports gambling outside Nevada has been stuck in committee.

Supporters of legal sports gambling say the major pro leagues are hypocritical for opposing its expansion when some are partners in fantasy sports leagues, in which participants "draft" players from different teams and then compete against each other daily or weekly using the players' individual performances. Ads for the fantasy leagues have filled NFL telecasts in the season that began recently.

The leagues say the two aren't the same. Along with the NCAA, they sued New Jersey in 2012 to stop its sports betting effort and have been successful so far, though an appeal is pending in federal court.

Last week Pallone wrote to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over professional sports, to request a hearing into the relationship among the pro leagues, fantasy sports leagues and traditional sports gambling. On Monday, he said the proliferation of fantasy leagues has pushed the issue to the forefront.

"It's been a gradual process, but I think this is going to put them on the spot if we have this hearing," he said, referring to the pro leagues.

Through a spokesman, LoBiondo noted that commissioners of the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have come out in recent months "in varying degrees in favor of re-examining sports betting."

Representatives for the four pro leagues didn't immediately return requests for comment.