Supreme Court Grants Petition to Hear New Jersey’s Sports Betting Challenge Appeal

On Monday, when the United States Supreme Court issued a list of cases which it will hear during the upcoming session, sports betting enthusiasts were dismayed to learn that the joint appeals lodged over Christie v. NCAA and National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA failed to make the cut.

At the time, it appeared as though the Court would decline to consider the consolidated cases – which together represent the strongest challenge to a federal ban on sports betting yet lodged.

But buried amidst the bad news was a glimmer of hope, as the Court arranged for a “cleanup conference” the following day to discuss cases of interest, with the sports betting challenge conspicuously included.

That conference produced six additional cases to be granted a writ of certiorari, thus enabling the highest court in the land to study their merits, one of which was the combined Christie v. NCAA and National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association v. NCAA filing.

By deciding to grant cert in the cases, the Court elevated a decades old debate over the federal prohibition on sports betting known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. That law banned sportsbooks across America, aside from the four states which were exempted via a “grandfather” clause (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana).

The state of New Jersey has continually attempted to authorize its own statewide sports betting industry, beginning with a public referendum in late 2011.

Governor Chris Christie then signed the sports betting proposal into law in January of 2012, but before the industry was operational, Christie and New Jersey were sued by the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Hockey League (NHL), and National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA).

The following string of decisions saw New Jersey’s efforts repeatedly denied in federal court, culminating with a denial by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in August of 2016. That prompted an appeal to the Supreme Court which finally resulted in cert being granted on Tuesday.

Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), who has introduced legislation to overturn PAPSA altogether through Congress, celebrated the Court’s decision in a statement:

“I applaud the Supreme Court for taking on this case and potentially resolving a long history of hypocrisy and unfairness in federal law. The citizens of New Jersey overwhelmingly support legalized sports betting and acted in a referendum to show that support. Both Congress and the Supreme Court should respect these actions.

Rather than continuing to allow criminal and offshore entities to reap the benefits of illegal gaming, there is now an opportunity for the Supreme Court to allow the democratic process in New Jersey to appropriately regulate sports gaming.”

Geoff Freeman, who serves as president and chief executive officer for the American Gaming Association (AGA) – the chief lobby group working on behalf of PAPSA repeal – released a statement praising the Court:

“The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 has failed to protect sports and fans. PASPA, which is approaching its 25th anniversary, is fueling an unregulated $150 billion illegal gambling market that continues to deprive states of vital public funding for services such as law enforcement and infrastructure.

We are pleased the Supreme Court appears to have responded favorably to our arguments as to why they should hear this important case. And we are hopeful their engagement will provide further encouragement for Congress to take the steps necessary to create a regulated sports betting marketplace in the United States.”

Governor Christie also chimed in to comment on the encouraging signs provided by the Court’s cert grant:

“I’m thrilled that we got certiorari at the Supreme Court.

I’m encouraged by it. We’re not declaring victory, but at least we’re in the game and that’s what we want to be.”

A new timetable has been established for the Court to hear the case, with New Jersey submitting its merits brief by August 10, amici briefs filed by August 17, the leagues’ respective response briefs by September 14, and a corresponding reply brief from New Jersey by October 14.