Question before judge on sports betting: Can New Jersey lift some elements of ban but not all?



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TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey could drop its ban on betting on sports entirely, but it cannot legally set conditions as it ends the prohibition, a lawyer for the NCAA and four major sports leagues told a federal judge Thursday.

The lawyer, Jeffrey Mishkin, said the state isn't dropping its sports betting ban, because it requires that it takes place only at casinos and horse racing tracks and that bettors be at least 21 years old.

New Jersey, in an attempt to resurrect its struggling casinos and race tracks, has persistently taken on a federal law that bars most states from authorizing betting on sports. The issue was before U.S. District Court Michael Shipp on Thursday. He said he planned to release a ruling on Friday. No matter what Shipp decides, the case is expected to be before an appellate court before long.

The idea of allowing sports betting in New Jersey appeared to be dead earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an earlier case. But then Gov. Chris Christie announced that the state would not enforce its prohibition on sports gambling. The Legislature followed with a repeal of its ban, and Christie signed that into law.

Mishkin, a lawyer for the NCAA, MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL, said federal law would allow New Jersey to drop its sports betting prohibition, but he said that's not what the state is doing.

"There is no repeal of any prohibitions," he said. "All of New Jersey's prohibitions of sports gambling remain in effect."

For instance, he said, the state still wants to limit where sports betting can take place, to keep those under 21 from placing bets and to ban bets on college games that take place in the state or those that involve college teams from here. He also noted that casinos and race tracks are already highly regulated by the state.

Theodore Olson, the former U.S. solicitor general, argued on behalf of the state government.

"What is prohibited is an affirmative act by state officials that says, 'I am giving you the blessing to do this activity,'" he said. "And the state is not doing that."

Lawyers on the state's side say an earlier appeals court ruling finding New Jersey has the power to control the "contours" of the prohibition gives it the ability to set all the parameters. Mishkin says that should be interpreted more narrowly, giving the state the power to set penalties for violators.

Lawyers for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association say the leagues are hypocritical in their opposition.

They noted that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote in an opinion piece in The New York Times last week that he supports allowing sports gambling across the country, but only with regulation. The league also announced a partnership with a company that offers fantasy sports that allow participants to bet on the performance of individual players.

The thoroughbred organization runs Monmouth Park, the state-owned track that wants to move ahead with sports betting. Monmouth Park Chairman Dennis Drazin said after the hearing that the track can hold on for only so long unless it's able to offer sports betting or casino gambling.

Ronald Riccio, a lawyer for the thoroughbred organization, said sports gambling is essential to the horse-racing industry in New Jersey and its jobs as well as the open space on which horses are raised.

"The only hardship to the league," Riccio told Shipp, "is that there's going to be another competitor in their fantasy games."


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