Sports Betting Recap: Brief Reveals NJ’s Core Argument Against PASPA

It’s been a very interesting 2017 for New Jersey and sports betting.

The state is currently battling for a hearing with the Supreme Court, and it wasn’t until earlier this month that we got a solid glimpse at the legal firepower the Garden State is bringing to its fight against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Gov. Chris Christie, along with the NJ Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association (NJTHA) and Pacific Legal Foundation et al, filed motions at the end of August.

“PASPA compels States to regulate—indeed, prohibit—sports wagering and therefore exceeds Congress’s authority,” the brief said.

In other words, they claim the sports betting ban is unconstitutional.

Unpacking the argument: States aren’t subject to Congress’ commands

One of the words that came up a lot during Christie’s brief was “anti-commandeering,” a phrase that refers to the 10th Amendment basically limiting Congress’ ability to tell a state what to do in relation to how it makes laws.

Christie’s brief elaborated a bit more, citing a 1997 case in which it was determined “one of the ‘essential postulates’ derived from the ‘structure of the Constitution’ is that ‘state legislatures are not subject to federal direction.'”

The governor’s argument, therefore, is that PASPA has empowered Congress to limit states’ abilities to legislate sports betting, or at least create laws that would help regulate gambling.

Past attempts at PASPA reform cite illegal gambling

Christie and New Jersey first challenged PASPA in 2011 when voters passed a referendum that would allow regulation of sports betting so as to undercut the state’s prospering illegal sports betting economy.

Here’s an excerpt from the brief on that point:

“A substantial portion of illegal sports wagering activity is conducted by organized crime syndicates that are engaged in money laundering, racketeering, human and drug trafficking, and extortion. Faced with this massive, underground, and largely criminal sports wagering industry, New Jersey voters in 2011 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the State’s constitution that permitted the Legislature to enact measures legalizing, regulating, and controlling sports wagering.”

The NFL, NBA, NHL, NFL, and the NCAA reared back and fought New Jersey in the courts, with the district court ruling in favor of the leagues.

The state called for a review by the Supreme Court but was denied.

New Jersey tried again three years later, trying to repeal the state’s law banning sports betting, but eventually lost in another court battle.

At this point, Christie and the NJTHA are playing a waiting game to hear back from the Supreme Court. History hasn’t been kind to them, but there’s a chance their luck could change this time around.