Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting For The NJ Sports Betting Decision

Posted on March 5, 2018 - Last Updated on March 6, 2018

Someday soon, the US Supreme Court will make a decision regarding New Jersey’s quest to offer sports betting. Monday was not that day.

The Court issued two opinions this morning in the nation’s capital, but Murphy vs. NCAA (formerly Christie vs. NCAA) will remain undecided for at least two more weeks.

The case centers around the state’s efforts to repeal its own sports betting ban and offer wagering. Sports leagues have initiated a court case (with success) to block those ambitions under the federal prohibition known as PASPA.

NJ sports betting is at the core of the challenge, but the case also brings into play other issues of federalism and commandeering.

Given the nature of the case and the far-reaching implications, it’s not terribly surprising that a ruling hasn’t come quickly.

The story for NJ sports betting so far

New Jersey has been trying to get out from under the thumb of sports leagues for several years now. Five of them — Major League Baseball, the NBA, NCAA, NFL and NHL — have stood in the way, most recently defeating the state in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016.

Last year, Gov. Chris Christie and the state made their appeal to the Supreme Court after exhausting all other judicial means. The nation’s highest court only hears a fraction of the cases presented to it, so it was a longshot from the start.

Surprisingly, though, the court granted the state’s request for an appeal in the summer of 2017. That alone bodes well for its chances of victory; the court frequently overturns lower court rulings when it chooses to hear a case.

In December, New Jersey and the leagues got an hour of oral arguments before the justices. It’s hard to cover everything relevant in such a short period, but the accompanying documents detailed the issue from both sides. Dozens of state attorneys general filed their support for NJ in the form of amicus briefs prior to that, too.

Most of the people familiar with the court came away handicapping NJ as the favorite to win. Since then, the industry has been on alert almost weekly for a possible decision.

What’s the timeline for a decision?

Each opinion day that has come and gone without a Murphy ruling creates an amusing letdown for media and other interested observers.

Monday carried enough potential in the eyes of ESPN to justify sending business reporter Darren Rovell to New Jersey to report on reactions. Once again, though, there weren’t any reactions to report. Despite the fact that nothing actually happened, Rovell filed an update from the William Hill Sports Bar (soon to be sportsbook?) inside the Monmouth Park racetrack.

“The Supreme Court justices did not do what they needed to do,” Rovell said at one point. But really, it’s a fool’s errand to try to predict when a specific ruling will be handed down.

It is fair to say that we’re currently in the window during which a decision would typically be levied. It’s been three months since oral arguments, which is just about right for a typical decision. This may not be a typical decision, though.

The court has already decided the other case that was argued on the same day as Murphy, so that’s encouraging for the timeline. But to speculate beyond that is just that — speculation.

We do know that the Supreme Court will issue something before the end of June. There’s even an unlikely scenario where the court could order the case to be reargued.

The next possible decision day is March 19, two weeks from today. Opinions are not scheduled to be released again until April 2, but the court could decide to issue some decisions in March.

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Other states not waiting

If the Supreme Court does strike down PASPA — and that’s still a big “if” — states will be climbing over each other to be the first into the market.

A number of states have already started preparing with new sports betting laws. There’s New Jersey, of course, along with New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Mississippi. More legislative action is likely needed in three of those, but PA sports betting is ready to go pending a favorable ruling from the court. And Nevada already has legal wagering.

A quick look at this sports betting bill tracker shows more than 15 states with active legislation on the subject. More could be joining that list, too.

The vast majority of state-based sports betting bills contain a clause that renders them inactive unless there is favorable movement at the federal level. That movement could come any day now, but it’s probably a bad idea to hold your breath waiting for the Supreme Court opinion.

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Eric Ramsey

Eric is a reporter and writer covering the NJ gambling industry, online poker, sports betting regulation, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.

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