Monday is the championship game for New Jersey’s bid to legalize sports betting, with Gov. Chris Christie, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and others from the state planning to be on hand in Washington as the Supreme Court hear arguments in the case.

New Jersey has been in court five years but has lost to the sports leagues at every lower court level. However, proponents of sports betting say there’s reason to hope for a comeback victory.

“I think we made an educated risk,” said Christie, who said he’s “cautiously optimistic.” “And no matter which way it goes, I think it was the right decision to make. And by the way the will of the people, who voted in a referendum in broad numbers that they wanted sports gaming in their state.”

In 2011, 64 percent of voters amended the state constitution to allow sports betting. But arguments about the proprietary of wagering itself are likely to be a secondary consideration, as the case hinges mostly on whether the federal government can tell states they must maintain a ban on such activity.

“I can’t say I never had any doubt we’re going to win,” Christie said. “But I’ve never had any doubt that the cause we were pursuing was the right one – not only on the issue of sports gaming but on the broader issue of the rights of the states versus federal government.”

The state is challenging a 1992 law – written by New Jersey’s then-U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley – that limits sports betting to four states, with Nevada the only of them offering full sports books. New Jersey had a one-year window in which it could have legalized sports betting but didn’t do so.

Back in 2009, state Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, filed the first lawsuit challenging the 1992 federal law. He said the Supreme Court takes only 1 percent of appeals but that when it does so, it reverses the lower-court rulings more than 60 percent of the time.

Also, in this case the court took the case even though the solicitor general said that it shouldn’t.

“So I think the odds are incredibly in our favor,” said Lesniak, who will also be on hand at the Supreme Court to hear the arguments.

New Jersey hired former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson to handle the case. Olson now works in the Washington office of the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Christie says Olson has argued before the Supreme Court 62 times – and won 75 percent of those cases.

The sports leagues are represented by the person who became solicitor general after Olson, Paul Clement, whose law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, says he has argued more cases before the Supreme Court since 2000 than any other lawyer.

“What is at stake is the revival of Atlantic City and our horse-racing industry,” Lesniak said. “Sports betting will attract folks both to Atlantic City and to the racetracks.”

A ruling should come between April and June. Lesniak said if it goes New Jersey’s way, Monmouth Park will take bets the next day and Atlantic City shortly after.

“I’m looking forward to placing the first bet wherever it is, in Atlantic City or Monmouth racetrack, on the Giants to win the Super Bowl,” Lesniak said.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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