TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - A federal judge has thrown out a constitutional challenge by New Jersey politicians and horseracing groups to a law that bans sports betting in most states, including the home of Atlantic City.
The U.S. Congress enacted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992 to curtail the spread of sports betting by making it illegal for a government to license or person to operate a betting, gambling or wagering scheme based on either professional or amateur sports. The only exceptions to the rule are states that conducted sports wagering prior to its passage.
New Jersey Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, led a challenge to the act's constitutionality. Lesniak also co-sponsored a bill asking New Jersey voters to consider the expansion of sports gambling at Atlantic City casinos and certain horse racetracks - the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association of New Jersey. Those three groups are also named as plaintiffs in Lesniak's complaint, and another state senator, Stephen Sweeney, filed an intervening complaint.
They argued the federal sports-betting law, which is known as the Bradley Act, denies states the ability to regulate themselves when it comes to gambling, and that it is also inherently unfair, as just four states - Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon - had their sports-gambling activities exempted under a grandfather clause when the law went into effect.
Lesniak said denying the same benefits to the other 46 states violates the Commerce Clause and the First, Fifth, 10th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. ruled March 7 that the horseracing groups lacked standing because they could not prove that they suffered injury, noting that none of groups actually engage in gambling activities themselves.
Lesniak and Sweeney, who serves as president of the state Senate, had challenged the law on the grounds it interfered with their discretionary rights as legislators to propose, consider and enact legislation. Brown concluded they lacked standing because their alleged institutional injury was too abstract for redress.
The judge also identified the New Jersey Constitution as the culprit that constrains the senators here, since it currently precludes the New Jersey legislature more directly than federal law from legalizing sports betting.
"The senators' argument [to strike down the act] thus puts the cart before the horse in many respects, because they presume voter passage of the referendum," Brown wrote.
"It would be improper for this court to assess a party's standing on speculation that a legislative proposal will be passed," he continued.
Brown also noted that under New Jersey law, "the proper party to bring such a claim would be New Jersey's attorney general, but the governor and attorney general have not intervened in this lawsuit."
Lesniak has said that if the voters approve the resolution on the ballot, he will refile the complaint again in November.
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