Chris Christie’s Latest Sports Betting Legal Challenge Is Doomed, Says Star Ledger
A recent op-ed piece by Paul Mulshine in the Star Ledger’s online portal, NJ.com, predicted a disastrous ending to Chris Christie’s latest attempt to save sports gambling in New Jersey.
If Mulshine is correct, then Christie will lose his legal challenge to the 1992 PASPA law which bans sports gambling in all U.S. states except Delaware, Nevada, Montana, and Oregon. In fact, Paul Mulshine predicts an ignominious defeat. The columnist describes the approach Christie is using as “insane”, or at least nearly insane. Here is why.
Sports Leagues Challenge New Jersey
Two years ago, when the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA sued New Jersey to stop the legalization of sports betting in the state, the case went before U.S. federal judge Michael Shipp. Judge Shipp ruled against New Jersey, but his opinion stated only that U.S. states cannot pass laws which legalize sports gambling in defiance of the PASPA law. If that state has no such sports betting laws on the books, then the state has the right to simply ignore sports gambling which is taking place inside the state.
Under those circumstances, no lawsuit by the sports leagues should be able to touch sports gambling at the Atlantic City casinos or Monmouth Park. The key legal point is that New Jersey must have no laws which seek to legalize, license, and regulate sports betting. Unfortunately, the New Jersey legislature passed just such a law in 2012, which was the source of the 2012-2014 lawsuit by the sports leagues.
Summer 2014 Lesniak Legislation
In August 2014, New Jersey’s legislature passed a law that would have repealed the 2012 act. State Senator Raymond Lesniak sponsored that bill and expected Governor Chris Christie to pass the bill, because it would have freed New Jersey from the legal albatross which caused defeat in the last round of legal squabbles. Instead, Chris Christie vetoed the bill, calling federal law “sacrosanct” and claiming he would not challenge such a law (by implication, the PASPA law).
Chris Christie’s Veto
Many journalists at the time, including the columnist from the Star Ledger, believed Governor Christie’s veto was done with an eye towards national politics. Christie did not want to be seen challenging federal law, if he planned on running for U.S. president in 2016. Mulshine has a slightly different interpretation: Christie vetoed the bill as a swipe against potential GOP presidential nomination rival Rand Paul’s stance on nullification. Christie did not want to appear to be nullifying federal law, so he vetoed New Jersey gaming bill.
Only weeks later, Christie and his lawyers changed course, though. They sent a dictate to the Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey racetracks, telling them they could open up sports betting operations in defiance of the PASPA law. New Jersey’s Attorney General would filed with Judge Shipp’s court asking for a clarification on his earlier ruling.
Why Christie’s Logic Is Flawed
The problem is, this appears to be a bad interpretation of federal law by Christie and his lawyers. Nothing has changed since Judge Shipp first made his ruling. If New Jersey’s sports betting laws had been repealed, the New Jersey AG could go to the appellate court and ask it to rule on the new circumstances–and would have a fair chance of winning that legal battle. Instead, the AG is going to go before the court and have to argue with the situation exactly the same as it was 2 years ago–thanks to Christie’s veto. New Jersey is likely to waste time and money going to court when it knows what the outcome is likely to be.
Mulshine points out the lawyers from the sports leagues noticed the holes in New Jersey’s case, and delivered one of the most devastating legal briefs in U.S. legal history (according to the pundit). The specific wording of Christie’s veto was cited to devastating effect.
Lesniak Seeks New Last-Minute Legislation
To repair the damage, Raymond Lesniak is seeking to pass a new sports gambling bill that would repeal the 2012 law. This is a close copy of the August 2014 bill which was vetoed by Governor Christie, with the wording altered enough to allow for a bit of face-saving on the part of the governor. The upshot is the bill would give New Jersey firmer legal standing when the New Jersey AG appears in Michael Shipp’s court.
Even better, the new law would allow New Jersey to opt-out of the legal filings altogether. It could do just as Michael Shipp suggested they do–turn a blind eye to sports gambling in the state. In those circumstances, Shipp implied New Jersey would be well within its right–all by doing nothing. In that scenario, Monmouth Park and the Atlantic City casinos would open sportsbooks and the U.S. sports leagues would sue them, instead of New Jersey. When this went to court, Monmouth Park would be on firmer legal ground than New Jersey now stands.
Christie Might Repeat the Same Mistake
Lesniak fears that Chris Christie will make the same mistake again, though. When asked by the Star Ledger what he expected to happen, Lesniak said, “I will have legislation on the Governor’s desk by the 16th. There were indications were he would sign a bill in two weeks. But now we’re hearing that he won’t.”
So a lifeline is likely to be tossed to the governor of New Jersey, but it appears he will continue to flounder, instead of grabbing that lifeline. That’s the opinion of one prominent New Jersey columnist, at least. It’s a compelling case, though Mulshine’s opinions isn’t the one that matters. Only Michael Shipp’s opinion on New Jersey sports betting matters at this point.