The NFL, along with the NCAA and major professional sports leagues, have just under one month to file their briefs in the Supreme Court case against the State of New Jersey (Christie v. NCAA) that will decide the future of sports betting in the United States.
The leagues will almost certainly argue that the 1992 law at issue — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) — is constitutional and therefore New Jersey’s arguments grounded in states’ rights fall flat. But members of Congress across the political spectrum aren’t buying the NFL’s position.
New Jersey Congressman Frank LoBiondo Says Legalized Sports Betting is a ‘Priority,’ Believes the NFL Is on the Wrong Side of the Argument
A lot of legal experts like New Jersey’s chances in the Supreme Court (SCOTUS), but having PASPA struck down as unconstitutional is far from a guarantee. Asked by SportsHandle if legalizing sports betting is a legislative priority, Congressman Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2) said, “It’s certainly a priority but it’s difficult to find the right timing and the way to get it moving. You know the professional sports league have been a big problem.”
For nearly a decade the sports leagues have battled New Jersey’s repeated efforts to legalize sports betting. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and state legislators have attempted to give effect to a 2011 ballot referendum in which two-thirds of New Jersey voters supported sports betting in the state, but the leagues have repeatedly blocked the efforts in the courts (which PASPA allows). Mr. LoBiondo, a Republican, continued on the leagues’ opposition:
“That’s softened a little bit but the NFL is still mind boggling how they’re trying to suggest that there’s no illegal betting going on and that sports betting would be bad,” Mr. LoBiondo said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to try to convince people that they’re on the wrong side of it.”
In another conversation with SportsHandle, Syracuse law professor John Wolohan echoed that disbelief in the NFL’s position.
“Clearly everybody, the leagues, depend on gambling,” Professor Wolohan said. “It makes football what it is. For them to say gambling is bad and we’ve got to keep it in just Nevada or Las Vegas seems pretty hypocritical, especially with their talking about moving to London where you can bet on anything, right?”
Lifting Up a Battered Atlantic City
Mr. LoBiondo’s congressional district houses southern New Jersey and Atlantic City which, after a rough 2016, actually enjoyed a recent uptick in revenue thanks in part to the success of its online casinos.
Just prior to Super Bowl LI in February, Mr. LoBiondo and fellow New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone (NJ-6) introduced the Sports Gaming Opportunity Act of 2017 (H.R. 783), which would give states a four-year window to legalize sports betting. The bill was mostly symbolic but certainly done with A.C. on the mind. Mr. LoBiondo imagined Super Bowl weekend in Atlantic City if sports betting were legalized.
“That weekend in Atlantic City, in the middle of the winter, is a totally dead weekend,” he said. “The excitement that it would generate, the people that would be coming in, more than likely they would not be day trippers. That would ripple out with the opportunity for sports betting for a lot of other venues so I think it would be a welcome and a very positive addition to our economic opportunity.”
Of course sports betting would not be a panacea. Beyond financial debt, the city still faces stiff and growing competition in the gaming market from nearby states such as Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. The potential impact of sports betting in casinos and racetracks might not be as impactful as some have imagined.
“I believe in under-promising and over-delivering,” Mr. LoBiondo said, “so we don’t want to raise expectations that this is some kind of a magic solution to the problems of Atlantic City, but it certainly would be an enormous boost.”
The Supreme Court Doing Congress’ Work?
While many stakeholders and lawmakers have engaged wait-and-see mode with respect to the the Supreme Court case and PASPA, others are pushing for swifter action. For one, Representative Doug Collins, a Republican of Georgia (GA-9), does not want SCOTUS doing the work of Congress. Collins recently told ESPN’s David Purdum:
“The Supreme Court will issue a decision on Christie v. NCAA within months, but the responsibility to write legislation belongs to Congress alone. Historically, when we’ve failed to legislate, the Supreme Court has been all too happy to fill the void. So, legislators have a window to address the issues surrounding PASPA, and, since the House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over this particular law, I look forward to reviewing it with the Chairman and our colleagues there.”
Collins went on to echo New Jersey’s argument that PASPA encroaches on states rights in contravention of the Constitution:
“I think it’s important that the Judiciary Committee get involved because I’m a constitutionalist and PASPA raises constitutional issue — including federal overreach — that we would be severely unwise to ignore. Like many Americans, northeast Georgians don’t appreciate the federal government coloring outside the legal lines.”
In The Event of an Adverse Decision
In the event that the high court does uphold PASPA, there does appear — now 25 years after PAPSA’s enactment — growing desire across red and blue states to have it repealed.
“We’re going to continue to pursue this,” Mr. LoBiondo said, “because both Frank Pallone and I along with many others in New Jersey feel that it’s the right way to go.”
Of course, the current political climate is hyper-partisan and members of Congress are struggling to execute basic governmental functions.
“With all the swirling around in Washington, this is a topic that’s pretty hard to bring to the forefront,” Mr. LoBiondo acknowledged. “In the gaming jurisdictions I can’t imagine anybody who would not want [sports betting], given the opportunity. We also know that there are going to be some people who are going to be adamantly opposed to it. It’s just how can we develop enough momentum to get it to the point of a vote.”