The antiquated law prohibiting all but four states is starting to be turned on its head. On Thursday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed Senate Bill 2460 into law, legalizing sports betting at the states casinos and racetracks. The confirmation came just a day after the General Assembly approved the bill 73-4. It previously flew through the Senate on the strength of a 27-1 vote. Monmouth Park racetrack has announced its intention to open a sports book on October 26th.
Just a little over a month ago, Christie issued a Law Enforcement Directive that lifted New Jersey’s ban on sports betting, though a Law Enforcement Directive is very different from an actual law legalizing those types of wagers. The Directive hearkened back to a 2011 law passed by referendum called the Sports Wagering Act. The Sports Wagering Act sought to do essentially the same thing as last week’s S2460, but was fought by the United States’ major professional sports leagues as well as the NCAA. The leagues won and the Sports Wagering Act never became law.
The Act did include, though, a clause that said that if one part of it was ruled to be invalid, it did not mean the entire bill was invalid. So while the court that ruled in the sports leagues’ lawsuit against the state said that New Jersey could not explicitly legalize sports betting and could not issue sports betting licenses, it did not say that the ban on sports betting couldn’t just be lifted and that currently licensed casinos and racetracks couldn’t allow sports betting.
New Jersey Acting Attorney General John Hoffman wrote in the Directive “….that court upheld the constitutionality of PASPA on the basis that it does not require States to maintain existing laws and thus does ‘not prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering.’”
PASPA is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act passed in 1992 that made sports betting illegal in all states except Montana, Delaware, Nevada, and Oregon. New Jersey had a one-year window to be added to the exclusion list, but declined.
In a statement released by the Governor’s office, Christie wrote:
As I explained when I returned Senate Bill No. 2250 without my approval, I am a strong proponent of legalized sports wagering in the State of New Jersey. As a result, in January of 2012 I signed into law a comprehensive licensing and regulatory regime authorizing sports wagering. The State defended that law vigorously in the federal courts, including an unsuccessful petition to the Supreme Court of the United States. Regrettably, that comprehensive regime was ultimately enjoined by the courts under the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), requiring the State to pursue a different path to eliminate New Jersey’s prior prohibition against sports wagering.
This bill codifies a partial repeal similar to that previously recognized by the Acting Attorney General, and does so in a manner acknowledged by the federal court of appeals to be lawful, thus avoiding another costly and unnecessary legal battle over the continued effectiveness of the Sports Wagering Act’s repeal provisions.
Importantly, this bill also improves upon critical concepts and resolves technical issues in Senate Bill No. 2250. For example, this bill specifies that certain college sport contests or athletic events shall not be the subject of wagering, as the New Jersey Constitution mandates. Likewise, it specifies that the repeal only extends to wagers by persons who are 21 years of age or older. Finally, this bill also repeals the January 2012 law in its entirety, thereby adding certainty and clarity to the law.