Says court challenge must wait until New Jersey voters decide sports betting referendum on November ballot
BY TOM HESTER SR.
A lawsuit to overturn a federal ban on sports wagering in New Jersey has been dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Garrett Brown on the grounds that voters have not yet weighed in on the issue.
The lawsuit was filed by state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to ask voters to authorize sports wagering in the state, if the federal ban was overturned. Lesniak said he intends to keep his effort to overturn the ban alive.
“Certainly, I’m disappointed that Judge Brown failed to consider the Constitutional issues in allowing the federal ban on sports wagering to stand,” Lesniak said Tuesday. “This law essentially puts New Jersey and 45 other states at a competitive disadvantage, and allows only four states in the nation – Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana – to have a monopoly on legal sports book in this country.
“However, in his decision to dismiss, he left the door open for future efforts to overturn the unconstitutional ban in the courts,” the senator said. “If voters in the Garden State approve a referendum which will be on the ballot this November to give New Jersey the authority to establish sports book at our ailing casinos and racetracks, we will essentially set up a constitutional crisis, in which the will of the people, expressed at the ballot box, will come into conflict with a flawed and ultimately unconstitutional federal law.
“I believe that when that happens, the courts will have to rule in our favor,” Lesniak said. “I will continue working with my colleagues in the Legislature to promote sports betting as a tool to help raise needed revenues for our state and our struggling gaming and wagering industries. As soon as the voters weigh in on this issue in November, we should be ready to move, and force a decision from the federal courts on the sports wagering ban on its merits and Constitutional issues, not on a technicality.”
Lesniak said he and Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) will sponsor legislation to establish a sports betting program for New Jersey that would not go into effect unless voters approve that kind of wagering on the November ballot.
“By enacting this bill now, we will make sure that we do not miss a beat in our efforts to legalize this form of gambling and give standing to the lawsuit to overturn the unfair federal ban,” Lesniak said. “Judge Brown’s decision to dismiss our lawsuit simply delays the inevitable. I am determined to continue fighting for New Jersey’s interests when it comes to sports wagering, and look forward to making our case after the November election.”
The U.S. Department of Justice opposed Lesniak’s lawsuit, telling Brown that it opposes repeal of federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the law that bans sports betting in 46 states.
Lesniak argued against the federal law on two counts. The first is that it is insensitive to the issue of states’ rights. The second reason is that the act permits some states such as Delaware and Nevada to permit sports betting and is therefore discriminatory.