HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 20Issue 24New Jersey Governor Vetoes Sports Wagering Bill; Sports Wagering Expansion Efforts Halted

On Monday, August 11, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed state Senate Bill (SB) 2250, a measure that would repeal New Jersey’s existing state law prohibitions against sports wagering “at casinos or gambling houses in Atlantic City or at current running and harness horse racetracks in this State.”  SB 2250 was introduced in late-June and quickly passed both houses of the legislature by wide margins.  The bill was introduced in response to the September, 2013 ruling by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the prohibition on the expansion of sports wagering into New Jersey by virtue of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (“PASPA”), the federal law which currently prohibits the expansion of sports wagering outside of the licensed Nevada sports books and certain limited lottery games and sports pools previously authorized in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana.  Notably, however, the Third Circuit opinion also provided that PASPA does not “…prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the Third Circuit’s opinion in June, 2014, thus leaving this decision as the binding precedent in New Jersey.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union) introduced SB 2250 as a mechanism to repeal the state laws that made sports betting illegal at state casinos and horse tracks, and which were in place before the enactment of PASPA in 1992.  In doing so, the argument was that sports wagering conducted at a racetrack or casino under procedures developed solely by the racetrack or casino, and not licensed by a state agency or run pursuant to a state legislative scheme, would not be considered unlawful gambling under New Jersey law, and would not explicitly run afoul of the PASPA prohibitions (which only prohibit a governmental entity from authorizing, advertising or licensing a sports wagering operation; or a person from running a sports wagering operation pursuant to state law).

Governor Christie, however, vetoed SB 2250, while remaining open to other options to legally expand sports wagering into New Jersey.  In a letter to the New Jersey Senate explaining his veto, Governor Christie stated:

“While I do not agree with the Circuit Court’s conclusion, I do believe that the rule of law is sacrosanct, binding on all Americans.  That duty adheres with special solemnity to those elected officials privileged to swear an oath to uphold the laws of our Nation. In a novel attempt to circumvent the Third Circuit’s ruling, this bill states that all prohibitions against wagering on the results of any professional, college, or amateur sport or athletic event, set forth in State law would no longer apply to wagering at casinos or racetracks in this State.  In essence, this bill partially deregulates betting at casinos and racetracks in an effort to sidestep federal law.  While I support the intentions of the Legislature to continue our shared commitment to enhancing the economic viability of our gaming industry, I cannot sign this bill, which was introduced on the same day the Supreme Court declined to hear our appeal, and then was rushed to final passage just three days later.  Ignoring federal law, rather than working to reform federal standards, is counter to our democratic traditions and inconsistent with the Constitutional values I have sworn to defend and protect.  While I remain open to exploring legally sound ways to let the State’s casinos and racetracks offer sports wagering, I am mindful that this process takes time.  As the sponsors point out, the Third Circuit’s opinion may not have foreclosed all legal avenues for permitting sports wagering within the State.  Now that the Supreme Court has made clear that it will not be taking the case, the time is right to examine the Third Circuit’s opinion carefully and determine if a different approach towards sports wagering would comply with federal law, and further whether this new approach would be in the best interests of the State.  In the meantime, we must respect the rule of law and the decisions of our courts.”

Though State Sen. Lesniak has stated publicly that he would explore the possibility of overriding the Governor’s veto, this does not seem to be a likely outcome. Governor Christie’s veto thus effectively ends the current attempts to expand sports wagering into New Jersey.   

 

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