Though the picture remained somewhat unclear Friday, potential and bettors and bookmakers took heart as lawmakers approved legislation to implement New Jersey’s long-await sports-betting program.
Following last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a federal ban on sports wagering, S-2602/A-4111 unanimously passed both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature on Thursday, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign the legislation.
Monmouth Park Racetrack, anticipating the action, had been preparing to begin accepting bets beginning Friday, though Murphy didn’t immediately act on the legislation as many expected he would.
And according to media reports, it may take some time before he acts. Murphy’s office didn’t respond to the Law Journal’s request for comment. But in a news conference Friday, footage from which was posted by nj.com, Murphy said of the sports-betting legislation, “we just got it this morning.” He added, “I want to place the first sports bet in New Jersey if I can, but we want to make sure we do it right. … I don’t have a timetable [but] we’re not sitting on it.”
The legislation provides for a regulatory framework and allows expedited licensing. Bettors will have to be at least 21, and no wagers will be allowed on collegiate events taking place in New Jersey, or on teams from colleges based in the state, no matter where the competitions are held.
Lawmakers lauded the move Thursday.
“New Jersey has led the way on sports betting and we will now capitalize on our decisive Supreme Court victory by putting in place a vibrant sports gaming industry,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement. “We can now seize the opportunity with a new sector of gaming that will help create jobs, generate economic growth and be an important boost to the casino industry and horse racing.”
Atlantic City casinos, along with other racetracks around the state, also are preparing to begin taking bets quickly, both in-person and online, as soon as their sports betting rooms are prepared.
Monmouth Park has retained London-based William Hill Race and Sports Book, one of the world’s largest sports betting operations. It has said that it already has assigned 50 employees to Monmouth Park in anticipation of accepting sports bets. It is expected that two other major overseas sports betting operations—Ladbroke and bet365.com—will soon move to open operations in the state.
The Legislature’s actions comes less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1992 federal law that had prohibited most states from licensing sports betting. New Jersey voters already had approved sports wagering by referendum vote years earlier, though the NCAA and professional sports leagues sued to block the state’s implementation of the law.
They were successful until the court’s decision last May 14. By a 6-3 vote in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, the justices found that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, infringed on state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment and amounted to “commandeering” states to do the federal government’s bidding.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said the law “unequivocally dictates what a state legislature may or may not do. … State legislatures are put under the direct control of Congress. It is as if federal officers were installed in state legislative chambers and were armed with the authority to stop legislators from voting on any offending proposals. A more direct affront to state sovereignty is not easy to imagine.”
Alito, a former U.S. attorney in New Jersey and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, also wrote, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented in part or in full.
“The court wields an ax to cut down Section 3702 instead of using a scalpel to trim the statute. It does so apparently in the mistaken assumption that private sports-gambling schemes would become lawful in the wake of its decision,” Ginsburg wrote.