NJ sports betting supporters hopeful after US Supreme Court hearing

4 December 2017
Atlantic City casinos would benefit from the addition of sports betting.

Atlantic City casinos would benefit from the addition of sports betting.

Let the speculation begin.

This morning, nine U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments regarding whether or not the state of New Jersey should be allowed to legalize sports betting. But a decision may not come until as late as June 2018 — which means, for now, any prediction on what will be decided is pure conjecture, even though the immediate thoughts of those in attendance today feel it was a very good day for sports betting proponents.

The case, Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, centers around the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 and pits outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie against the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball), but could also very easily pave the way for other U.S. states to quickly begin offering regulated sports betting.

Christie and the Garden State have lost every step of the way ever since their first attempts back in 2012 to authorize sports betting laws that challenged PASPA, which prohibits sports betting outside of Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana, the four states that were grandfathered in and can currently offer sports betting.

But when the Supreme Court, in a rare move, granted a petition for appeal back in June and put today's pivotal hearing on the docket, the push to legalize sports betting was given a literal lifeline.

Today's hearing lasted about one hour and ended just after 11 a.m. ET. Within minutes, many of the gaming law experts in the room who have followed the case closely went to Twitter to describe what they overwhelmingly felt was a good day for the Christie side.

Also, American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman issued a statement after the hearing, declaring, "Today is a positive day for the millions of Americans seeking to legally wager on sporting events," and that "the justices of the Court expressed deep interest in the role of the federal government — a role that we believe has created a thriving illegal market that has driven trillions of dollars to offshore websites and corner bookies."

Christopher L. Soriano, a partner in the Cherry Hill, N.J. office of Duane Morris LLP who concentrates in gaming law, told Casino City after the hearing that he thought it went "very well" for the state of New Jersey.

"It's difficult to try and read the tea leaves and once the Supreme Court goes behind the red curtain things can certainly change, but my feeling after being there is that there is definitely a majority that thinks there are concerns as to whether or not the statute is constitutional," he said. "All New Jersey needs is five of the nine to land on their side and if I absolutely had to make a prediction, I'd say this will go in their favor by a 6-3 count."

Soriano said that the six justices he feels showed the most concern over PASPA and will most likely rule in favor of New Jersey are John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. He was a bit taken aback by the amount of skepticism shown by Gorsuch regarding PASPA.

"I was surprised at how aggressively concerned he was," Soriano added. "Going in, I would have thought he would have been closer to down the middle or even favoring the sports leagues, but he seemed pretty definitive on New Jersey's side. That's certainly not what I expected."

The timing of the decision could be as soon as January, 2018 and as late as 29 June. Soriano said he expects the wait to be "at least 90 days," with a more likely time frame being in March or April.