A New Jersey appeals court today upheld a ruling that the state’s sports betting law conflicts with federal law and shouldn’t be implemented. Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20), who sponsored the bill to legalize sports betting, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that state officials will continue to fight for the practice and he believes they will ultimately be victorious.
Although the appeals court decision went against the legislation, Lesniak said there was one dissenting opinion, which means one judge ruled that the federal ban on sports betting is unconstitutional, marking the first time that’s happened. “We’ll take this case to the Supreme Court if we have to. It’s something that we deserve here in New Jersey,” he said. “They have that in Las Vegas, Nevada. They’re making millions of dollars generating a lot of tourism. Meanwhile that money is going to organized crime and offshore internet sites. It’s just wrong. And I believe that ultimately we will prevail.”
Lesniak said that according to the decision, New Jersey could repeal its ban on sports betting but it couldn’t be regulated. “Anybody could take bets — Las Vegas, racetracks, Joe my neighbor down the block could take bets. That would be OK according to the court of appeals. That makes no sense. That’s why I’m very confident that it ultimately will be overturned,” he said.
Today’s decision was different because the dissenting judge said the law is unconstitutional, according to Lesniak. “Congress does not have the right to tell states whether they can or cannot have sports betting within its borders. I believe that’s the right decision, that’s the correct decision and ultimately it will be adopted either by the entire court of appeals or by the United States Supreme Court,” he said.
If sports betting were to be allowed, Lesniak said it would mean thousands of jobs for New Jersey, millions of dollars in revenue, more jobs and it would give Atlantic City and racetracks a boost. “On Final Four weekend, Super Bowl week, you cannot get a room in Las Vegas and Atlantic City’s a ghost town. We want the same benefit that Congress has given to the state of Nevada,” he said.
When asked how long it might take to get legalized sports betting in New Jersey, Lesniak said it depends. But he believes the Supreme Court will take up the case. “It would be very unusual, actually, for the Supreme Court not to take this case up because it’s so monumental and because there’s a dissenting opinion below. And because it is states rights and the Supreme Court has ruled that in other cases, that states have rights that cannot be denied by Congress. That’s why I think we ultimately will prevail,” he said. “It may take a year. But we’ll keep fighting until we get it.”
Some opposition has come from major sports leagues, including the NFL. Lesniak said NFL officials are hypocrites because they allow games in London where sports betting takes place across the street from venues. “They should have no problem with people betting when the Super Bowl plays here next year,” he said.
The only option New Jersey officials have before raising the issue in the courts again is to allow sports betting without regulation, according to Lesniak.
“The only thing we could do is the ultimate option and that is to say, anybody who wants to take bets, go right ahead and do it. We’re not going to prosecute. The court of appeals said you could do that. That would be the ultimate solution. That would fix their fannies for sure because Joe down the block could take bets. We don’t want that to happen. But that’s basically what the court of appeals is arguing so we’ll keep fighting. One way or the other we will prevail,” Lesniak said.