WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a ban on sports gambling in New Jersey, rebuffing an attempt to bring betting on professional and college sporting events to Atlantic City casinos and the state's racetracks.
The justices did not comment in letting stand lower court rulings that struck down New Jersey's sports betting law because it conflicts with a federal law that that allows state-sanctioned sports gambling only in Nevada and three other states.
The state's appeal was led by Gov. Chris Christie and it argued that New Jersey was trying to limit illegal sports wagering and capture some of that money for the state treasury. New Jersey says an estimated $500 billion is bet illegally on sporting events each year.
The New Jersey lawmaker who wrote the betting legislation said he plans to introduce a bill that would repeal all laws prohibiting sports betting. Sen. Raymond Lesniak said he hoped the U.S. Justice Department wouldn't challenge it, which he said would be consistent with its stance in other areas.
"Aren't they selling marijuana in Colorado and Washington?" he asked. "Isn't that against federal law?"
Voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly endorsed legal sports betting in a nonbinding referendum in 2011. State lawmakers soon enacted a law to allow for betting at tracks and in casinos. Bets wouldn't have been taken on games involving New Jersey colleges or college games played in the state.
But those actions ran up against the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, enacted by Congress to restrict betting on sports to a few states. Nevada has allowed betting on sports for more than 60 years, and Delaware, Montana and Oregon have at times permitted more limited betting. New Jersey missed a deadline in the law that would have allowed sports betting in Atlantic City.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the major professional leagues in baseball, basketball, football and hockey sued to block the New Jersey law from taking effect, saying betting would harm the integrity of their games. The Obama administration also joined in the legal fight, opposing New Jersey.
A trial judge ruled against the state and his ruling was upheld by a divided panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
The appeals court said it was not judging the wisdom or desirability of allowing sports wagering.
"New Jersey's sports wagering law conflicts with PASPA and, under our Constitution, must yield," the court said.
The dissenting judge said Congress exceeded its authority when it passed the federal sports betting law.