Say Governor’s Decision Not to Push State’s Interests in Sports Betting Lawsuit Will Not Halt Fight to Overturn Federal Law
TRENTON – Senator Raymond J. Lesniak and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney expressed disappointment today that Governor Christie will not be joining onto a lawsuit initiated by Senator Lesniak to overturn a discriminatory federal ban on sports wagering which allows for a monopoly on sports betting in just four states. However, they said the lawsuit would proceed without the Governor.
“With or without the Governor’s support, I’m fully committed to arguing the case that New Jersey voters should be able to choose their own destiny when it comes to legalizing sports wagering,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union, who has taken on the case on a pro-bono basis through his law firm, Weiner Lesniak. “I’m disappointed that the Governor chose not to stand up for New Jersey’s electorate, and I’m frustrated that the Governor delayed our proceedings by six months while he decided ultimately not to join in the lawsuit. But at the end of the day, I’m grateful that the State Senate has signed on as a plaintiff, and I believe that gives us enough legal standing to successfully challenge the federal ban on sports wagering in court.”
“Legalized sports wagering could be a valuable tool in attracting new patrons and new investment to Atlantic City’s casino industry,” said Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “However, whether the voters approve of or reject legalized sports betting in New Jersey, the decision should be up to them – not a federal ban which gives four states a monopoly on sports wagering. This is about empowering New Jersey voters to decide for themselves whether they want sports betting in our State.”
Last year, Senator Lesniak filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a law which prohibits sports wagering in all states except Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Senator Lesniak maintains that the federal ban on sports wagering is unconstitutional because it violates the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution – that all powers not expressly granted to the US Government via the Constitution, nor prohibited to the states by the Constitution, shall be reserved for the states respectively, or to the people directly. If the federal ban on sports wagering is overturned, New Jersey voters would have to approve an amendment to the state constitution to legalize sports wagering in the Garden State.
Senator Lesniak was notified today by the Governor’s Counsel’s office that Governor Christie had decided not to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
“We’re on very solid ground to argue the unconstitutionality of PASPA,” said Senator Lesniak. “Governor Christie should have recognized that and stood with us as we seek to give New Jersey voters a voice in whether or not to allow sports betting within our borders.”
Senator Lesniak pointed out that legalized sports wagering could be an economic boon for the State of New Jersey. According to a report completed by LVSC, a division of Cantor Fitzgerald, legalized sports wagering in New Jersey could generate up to $650 million a year in economic activity for the State and up to $60 million a year in State revenues for programs that benefit seniors and the disabled, including transportation assistance, health services and prescription drug programs.
In February, the New Jersey State Senate approved a resolution, through a voice vote, to allow the Senate President to join in the legal challenge as a plaintiff. Senate President Sweeney said that joining in the lawsuit is a matter of allowing New Jersey voters to choose whether to legalize sports wagering or not.
“At the end of the day, I think legalizing sports wagering would be good for New Jersey’s gaming economy, but ultimately, it should be up to the voters,” said Senate President Sweeney. “Joining in the lawsuit was an easy decision when you consider that voters in the Garden State today are handcuffed by the Legislature’s failure to act in 1992 to grandfather us in under the federal sports wagering ban. This is about undoing a past mistake and having faith that voters in the Garden State will make the right choice when it comes to the future of sports wagering in New Jersey.”