Congressman calls for Supreme Court review of betting case

New Jersey's five-year battle with the NCAA, NFL and other major professional sports leagues over expanding legal sports betting could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., sent a letter to Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall, urging him to endorse a Supreme Court review of the case, which could open the floodgates for state-by-state expansion of legal sports betting.

The Solicitor General's office is expected to file a brief by the end of the month, recommending whether it believes the Supreme Court should review New Jersey's petition. The Supreme Court then could decide whether to take the case before the end of its June term.

In his letter to Wall, Pallone wrote that New Jersey's petition is worthy of review because it involves "a legal question of major importance," one that "equally affects every state and the prerogatives of its citizens."

The case is centered on the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which restricts state-sponsored sports betting to a handful of states. Only Nevada is allowed to offer single-game sports betting, the most popular form in the U.S.

New Jersey has argued that the PASPA is unconstitutional and infringes on states' rights but has lost every step of the way. The battle began in August 2012, when the sports leagues sued Gov. Chris Christie, who earlier in the year had signed legislation to legalize sports betting at the state's casinos and racetracks. New Jersey voters had overwhelmingly approved a referendum two months before Christie signed the legislation.

The state lost twice in both district and federal appeals court, and this is its second time asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal. In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to take the case.

"Without the Supreme Court's review and a decision on this appeal, these areas of disagreement and conflict will inevitably grow and lead to more confusion," Pallone wrote. "After all, the question of how a state authorizes sports gambling by law or compact without violating PASPA remains extremely hazy."

The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA are opposed to state-by-state expansion of legalized sports betting. While the NBA and Major League Baseball favor a federal framework for legalized sports betting, the NFL and NCAA are opposed to any expansion, while the NHL has not held a firm public stance.

While the case has played out, the sports landscape has shifted in the U.S., with both the NFL and NHL placing franchises in Las Vegas, the epicenter of legal sports betting, and the NBA and Major League Baseball coming out in support of re-examining how they approach sports betting. Daily fantasy sports also rose to prominence over the past five years and has been widely embraced by the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, in part because it focuses on individual performance and not the outcome of games.

Pallone, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has introduced a federal sports betting bill, and his staff is working on comprehensive legislation that aims to update gambling laws in the U.S.

"New Jersey should have the same opportunity to proceed with sports betting that has been allowed in other states," Pallone wrote.