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Chris Christie takes fight for sports gambling to the Supreme Court

Chris Christie, New Jersey’s outgoing Governor, has taken his long fight to legalise sports gambling to the Supreme Court. The legal battle stems from a disagreement between New Jersey’s voters (who want to introduce sports betting) and professional sports associations (that want it to remain illegal).

The background

 

  • New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, fights to legalise sports gambling in the state
  • The fight comes after voters in New Jersey voted to legalise the activity in 2011
  • Christie battles against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) at the Supreme Court

 

Back in 2011, voters in New Jersey voted to legalise sports betting in a bid to tap into what is a $150 billion industry, despite being illegal. After the closures of four casinos in Atlantic City, advocates of legalising sports betting said it would provide a much-needed boost to the state’s faltering economy.

 

However, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the country’s four major professional sports leagues immediately sued to challenge the new law. The courts agreed with the prosecution and struck the law down as a violation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

 

First passed in 1992, PASPA prohibits any state (except Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon) to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law" sports betting.

 

However, Christie argues that while PASPA can prevent states from passing laws that legalise sports betting, it cannot force states to continue upholding prohibition when the laws do not apply to every state.

 

The American Gaming Association (AGA), which also supports the repeal of PASPA, estimates legal sports betting could bring in up to $26.6 billion by increasing gross domestic product, creating jobs and bringing in more tax revenues.

 

Christie hasn’t always been in favour of sports gambling, but changed his mind in 2014 when it emerged Atlantic City was in financial trouble. After attempting to repeal key provisions on sports betting at racetracks and in casinos, the courts again ruled against New Jersey. Christie responded by taking the fight to the Supreme Court.

 

“Hypocrites”

Lawyers for the NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all refute Christie’s claim that PASPA is forcing New Jersey to enforce the law. However, it says that the state cannot pass any legislation that is “inconsistent with federal policy”. The leagues say they oppose sports gambling on the grounds that it will harm the “integrity” of their sports.

 

Christie retorted by claiming the sports associations “no longer have the moral high ground” and that their opposition rests in their desire to "determine the size of the piece" they could get from potential revenues. By contrast, President Donald Trump is siding with the sports leagues and has urged the Supreme Court to uphold PASPA.

 

Possible knock-on effects

If Christie wins

If the Supreme Court does find in favour of Christie by overturning PASPA entirely, this could clear the way for sports gambling in every one of the country’s 50 states. However, it’s more likely the Court will issue a more conservative ruling by affirming New Jersey’s repeals. If this happens, Congress will have to step in to resolve the loophole that would appear in PASPA.

 

In an interview outside the courtroom, the Governor said that if the state is successful in this case, the people of New Jersey could start placing bets “within two weeks” of the court’s ruling.

 

If Christie loses

In reference to what he says is a commandeering approach to law, the Governor says that “today it’s sports gaming, tomorrow it’s something else”. This suggests he believes that allowing the federal government to impose its laws on a state that doesn’t want it is a dangerous precedent for its future conduct.

The Supreme Court is expected to make its final ruling on the case by June 2018. 

 

Odds in Christie’s favour

Despite the fact that the President is siding with the sports associations, the odds appear to favour New Jersey in this matter. According to the Associated Press, many Supreme Court justices find Christie’s arguments more appealing than those set out by the opposition to sports betting. In fact, West Virginia and 17 other states are supporting New Jersey on the grounds that Congress exceeded its legal authority when passing PASPA 25 years ago.