(CN) - New Jersey legalized sports betting with a half-baked challenge to federal gambling law, the U.S. government said, siding with athletic leagues that sued the state last year.
Gov. Chris Christie legalized gambling on professional, college or amateur sports at casinos and racetracks by signing the New Jersey Sports Wagering Law in January 2012.
That maneuver drew an August federal complaint from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.
They claim that the law violates the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which prevents the expansion of state-sponsored sports wagering.
Three days later, the leagues moved for summary judgment and asked the court to enjoin implementation of the law by the defendants, Gov. Christie, Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck and Racing Commission Executive Director Frank Zanzuccki.
U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp refused to dismiss the case on Dec. 21, finding that the law "will likely increase the perception that the integrity of the leagues' games is being negatively impacted by sports betting."
The state and an intervening defendant, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Inc., in turn filed briefs challenging PASPA's constitutionality, leading the U.S. government to intervene on Jan. 22.
In a brief filed Friday, the government urged the court to uphold PASPA.
"Because PASPA prohibits New Jersey from sponsoring, operating, advertising, promoting, licensing, or authorizing sports gambling, but it does not impose any affirmative duties on New Jersey, PASPA does not constitute an exceptional instance in which a federal statute commandeers state action in violation of the 10th Amendment," the brief states (emphasis in original).
Congress is furthermore authorized under the commerce clause to regulate gambling, the government added.
"It is reasonable for Congress to have concluded that sports wagering would substantially affect interstate commerce, and by limiting the expansion of lawful sports gambling, Congress acted rationally," the 33-page brief states.
PASPA contravenes neither state sovereignty principles nor the equal footing doctrine, according to the brief.
"Because PASPA is economic legislation enacted under the commerce clause after New Jersey's admission to the Union, it cannot be challenged under the equal footing doctrine," Justice Department attorney Peter Phipps wrote. "More fundamentally, only subsequently admitted states may bring challenges under the equal footing doctrine. Because New Jersey was one of the original 13 colonies and has been continuously admitted to the Union, the equal footing doctrine is inapplicable."
PASPA also does not offend due process and equal protection principles, the U.S. said.
"Because New Jersey does not constitute a 'person' within the protection of the Fifth Amendment, it cannot challenge PASPA's constitutionality on due process or equal protection grounds," Phipps wrote.
Responsive briefs are due this Friday from the leagues, the state defendants, and defendant-intervenors: the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, state General Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
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