Ruling expected on whether sports betting can move ahead in New Jersey; appeal expected

A ruling could come soon on whether New Jersey horse tracks and casinos can start accepting bets on sports in defiance of the nation's major sports leagues and the federal government.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp was expected to rule Friday, but no decision was announced by 5 p.m. No matter what the decision, it's expected to be appealed.

New Jersey has been pushing persistently to allow sports betting at horse tracks and casinos in an effort to support both struggling industries. Voters have approved the concept, but a federal court rejected it in a slightly different form. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this year, and it seemed that might be the end of it.

But then Gov. Chris Christie's administration tried another approach. Instead of legalizing sports betting, it called for not enforcing the state's ban. The Legislature followed with a bill to lift the ban as it pertains to casinos and tracks. Christie signed that into law last month.

The NCAA and four major professional sports leagues contend that federal law would allow the state to lift the ban entirely — but not to allow sports betting with some conditions, such as limiting it to certain locations and keeping minors from participating.

In a hearing Thursday, Shipp seemed at times troubled by the state's approach.

"Are the federal laws so easily evaded that we can cast a law in such a way that we can get around and do indirectly what do cannot do directly?" he asked Theodore Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general who argued the state's case.

Olson responded that the federal government could ban sports betting entirely if it wanted to — so long as it would take on the responsibility and cost of enforcing it.