11/22/2014 10:43AM

Judge rules against New Jersey sports betting plan


A federal judge has once again ruled that a plan by New Jersey to allow racetracks and casinos to offer betting on sports would violate a 1992 federal ban on the practice.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp late on Friday is the third in which New Jersey has been stymied by a federal court. New Jersey could appeal the ruling, but earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an earlier ruling dealing with the same issue, making it unlikely that the state could prevail.

The latest ruling was in response to a suit filed by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA. After the state passed a bill repealing all prohibitions on sports wagering, and Gov. Chris Christie directed state law-enforcement agencies to ignore sports-betting operations at racetrack and casinos, the leagues filed a suit to block the plan. Shipp ruled in their favor again.

Monmouth Park, which is operated by a company controlled by horsemen through a lease with the state, was the only site in New Jersey to have expressed willingness to open a sports book. Casinos in Atlantic City have stayed mum on the issue, largely because any potential violation of federal law could jeopardize the gambling licenses of other casinos owned and operated by their parent companies in other states.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, but not terribly surprised,” said Dennis Drazin, the head of Monmouth’s operating company, in a statement. “The decision today is a delay, not an end to Monmouth Park offering sports betting to our fans. We remain steadfast in our fight to bring sports betting to Monmouth Park and are confident that day is still on the very near horizon.”

Monmouth has a partnership agreement with William Hill, the British bookmaker, to operate a sports book on its Oceanport property. The track had said it intended to open the book on Oct. 26, but it dropped that plan when Shipp granted a temporary restraining order on Oct. 24.

Monmouth said in the release that it would delay plans to build a 7,500-seat concert venue at the track, saying that the construction was to be funded by revenues from sports betting.

Although voters passed a referendum in 2011 authorizing sports betting in the state, the practice is illegal under a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which bans sports betting in nearly every state in the U.S., with some very narrow exceptions. The rulings blocking New Jersey’s quest to allow for the practice have all explicitly cited the federal ban.

The state’s latest attempt to find legal justification for the practice has baffled some legal experts. Most likely, the 1992 federal law will need to be repealed or amended in order to allow any state to offer betting on sports, a possibility that has seemed to become increasingly palatable in the past several years.

Two weeks ago, the commissioner of the NBA, Adam Silver, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times arguing for a lifting of the federal law, saying that the time had come for sports betting to be legalized so that it could be better regulated. Many other leagues, and especially the NCAA, however, remain steadfast in their opposition to legal sports wagering.