At the time, state officials refused to take advantage of the offer, and the one year extension to consider passing legislation to make sports betting legal in the state expired. Fast forward over twenty years later and now governor Chris Christie along with the state legislature is aggressively pushing to legalize and expand betting within the state. The federal government, however, argues that the state has already passed on the opportunity once and shouldn't be afforded another chance.
Multiple sports organizations including the NFL, the NCAA, and others sued the state in 2012 after the legislature passed a new sports betting law in defiance of prohibition laws passed by the United States Congress in 1992. The federal government, through the US Solicitor General's office, joined the suit later that year.
Last year, the plaintiffs successfully defended the twenty-two year old law in federal court. Judge Michael Shipp, presiding over the district court, ruled that the new sports betting law passed in New Jersey conflicted with the federal prohibition law. Later, the United States Appeals Court agreed with the district court judge's ruling.
State officials appealed to the United States Supreme Court to consider arguments in the case. In response, the Solicitor General along with numerous other interested parties filed written arguments before the court.
"New Jersey can't complain now," the Solicitor General Donald Verilli wrote. He later argued that the federal law barred the state from expanding gambling to racetracks and casinos, and that the state's refusal to take advantage of the time window afforded to them by the federal government shouldn't be the basis of a discrimination argument now.
Back in 1994, after the passage and signing into law of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, sports betting had become a heated political issue within the state of New Jersey. Republican Christie Whitman and her staff, along with several assemblymen, worked hard to ensure that the referendum to take advantage of the federal time window never made it onto the ballot. In their opinion, it would be used by Democrats to draw more people to that year's gubernatorial election, particularly those voters from urban settings who would benefit substantially from the passage of the law.
Whitman would go on to win the election by less than 25,000 votes.
Representatives for the state argue that the law illegally "commandeers" states and makes them enforce the federal prohibition law, often against the citizens own best interests. Furthermore, the law allows for some states to expand sports betting while prohibiting others, violating the equal sovereignty principle.
A decision from the Supreme Court is expected by mid-June. In total, the state has spent $3 million in legal fees alone fighting against the enforcement of the prohibition law.
State officials believe that sports betting could be a potential windfall for New Jersey, generating tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue and reviving the gambling industry within the state.
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