ATLANTIC CITY - The NCAA and four major professional sports leagues filed suit Tuesday to stop New Jersey from implementing sports betting at the dozen casinos here and the state's race tracks.
The legal action by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the professional leagues was expected. It follows a referendum in favor of allowing sports betting in New Jersey, laws passed by the state Legislature, regulations drafted by Gov. Christie, and approval by the state's Division of Gaming Enforcement.
The lawsuit by the four pro leagues - Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League - and the NCAA was filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton. The complaint argues that New Jersey has pursued a course of action that could, "within the next two months," allow casinos and race tracks to "commence gambling operations on amateur and professional sports."
"This is an action challenging New Jersey's plan to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, and authorize gambling on amateur and professional sports, in clear and flagrant violation of federal law," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit adds: "Gambling on amateur and professional sports threatens the integrity of those sports and is fundamentally at odds with the principle ... that the outcomes of collegiate and professional athletic contests must be determined ... solely on the basis of honest athletic competition."
The federal law - the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 - limits sports betting to Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware. Of those, only Nevada has a true sports book - allowing for wagering on pro and collegiate sporting events. For any expansion beyond those four states, the federal ban must be overturned, which is New Jersey's goal.
Delaware also made a bid three years ago to offer more than parlay betting at its three race track casinos, but was denied by the federal courts after a similar lawsuit by the four pro leagues and the NCAA.
But Christie said he believed that New Jersey would prevail in overturning the federal ban.
"I think we're going to win," he said at a news conference in Trenton.
"I don't believe it's up to the federal government to decide what happens within the borders of a state on this issue," said Christie, "especially when they permit other states to do it."
Christie's position is shared by others.
"The hypocrisy is what kills me," said New Jersey Sen. James Whelan (D., Atlantic). "The NFL and NCAA have a contract with ESPN to televise point spreads on major games, and you're telling me there's no betting on sports already going on? The leagues have to clean up their own houses."
"Let the games begin," said state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union), who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department three years ago to overturn the federal ban on behalf of New Jersey. The case was eventually dismissed on grounds that the state had no standing.
"They're playing right into our hands," Lesniak said of the sports leagues and the NCAA. "I was wondering when they would take the bait."
Daniel Crawford, 33, of West Philadelphia, was wondering when the Atlantic City casinos would begin offering sports betting.
"It would bring in more revenue," he said, after playing free bingo at Resorts on Tuesday afternoon. "People won't have to go to Vegas."