Attorneys for the NCAA, NFL and other professional sports leagues say New Jersey is trying to circumvent federal law and under no circumstances can sports betting be conducted at the state's racetracks at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands.
New Jersey disagrees and has been preparing new legislation to do exactly that.
N.J. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told ESPN on Monday he'll introduce a new bill as early as Tuesday that will repeal the state's prohibitions on sports betting and address the sports leagues' concerns. Lesniak hopes to pass the legislation within 30 days and remains optimistic that he'll be able to place the first legal sports bet in New Jersey this fall.
It's the latest step in a legal battle between the sports leagues and New Jersey that has lasted more than two years. In an 18-page brief filed Monday, the leagues asked U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp to deny New Jersey's request for clarification of a 2013 ruling that resulted in a permanent injunction barring the state's sports betting plans. The state wants to confirm that it can repeal its sports betting laws and not be in violation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which prevents state-sponsored sports betting outside of Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.
The leagues state in their brief that PASPA does not prohibit states from repealing existing prohibitions and "completely deregulating" sports betting. They just don't believe New Jersey has met all the stipulations.
Lesniak says his new bill will follow those guidelines, while still attempting to allow the state's struggling casinos and racetracks to benefit by having private entities offer Las Vegas-style sports betting.
"I expect the governor to sign it this time around," Lesniak said. "If he wants to have sports betting in New Jersey, and I believe that he does, I believe that he will sign it. The future of Atlantic City and our racing industry needs it."
New Jersey has until Oct. 10 to respond to the leagues, and a hearing is slated for mid-October.
Last September, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed Shipp's ruling in a majority decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court then declined to hear New Jersey's case in late June. Lesniak didn't give up, though, and, within days of the Supreme Court's decision, pushed legislation through the Assembly that repealed the state's prohibitions on sports betting.
Gov. Chris Christie, however, vetoed Lesniak's bill in early August, only to reverse course a month later. On Sept. 8, Christie, through Attorney General John Hoffman, issued a directive instructing law enforcement to cease any prosecution of sports betting at racetracks and casinos. At the same time, Christie filed a Motion for Clarification of Shipp's ruling.
The leagues called Christie's directive "astounding" and a "blatant violation" of the injunction and targeted his words from the veto of Lesniak's bill in their response brief.
"In his veto statement, the Governor wrote: "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," attorneys for the leagues wrote.
The leagues singled out the racetracks at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands in their briefs, claiming both are owned and managed by the state, specifically the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
However, New Jersey attorney Dennis Drazin, who advises the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, told ESPN in an email that the NJSEA owns the land, but the tracks are leased to private entities.
"They are not managed by the state," Drazin added.
Monmouth Park has been planning to have an operational sports book by Oct. 25. Drazin said Monday he will wait for the judge's ruling.