Yesterday, the NCAA and the big four professional sports leagues filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, alleging that the state law that was approved by NJ voters last November is a "clear and flagrant violation of federal law." The five sports organizations (plaintiffs) are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey for preliminary and permanent injunctions against NJ officials, to enjoin (prevent) them from carrying out the law that authorizes sports betting in New Jersey. Here's why the State of New Jersey will prevail:
First of all, there's a legitimate argument that the federal statute at issue—the Professional & Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), 28 U.S.C. § 3702—is unconstitutional. Second, even if the statute is constitutional on its face, because the NJ voters overwhelmingly approved the referendum, the state can argue that the statute is unconstitutional as applied because it violates the Tenth Amendment (state sovereignty).
And perhaps the most compelling reason that New Jersey will prevail is that courts don't hand out injunctions like Roger Goodell hands out fines and suspensions. There's a strict, three-part test that the plaintiffs must prove: 1) a likelihood of success on the merits of the lawsuit; 2) irreparable harm is likely if the court doesn't grant the injunction; and 3) that the injunction is necessary to "balance the equities" in the controversy.
Success on the merits essentially means that the plaintiffs have a clear right to relief, or, that there's very little doubt that they will ultimately win the case. In this case, even if the plaintiffs could ultimately win, it's not so clear or obvious as to sufficiently prove a likelihood of success. To try to show their likelihood of success, the plaintiffs simply cited the federal statute at issue—which purportedly bans sports betting in all states except Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. But there is a countervailing argument—that the federal law could be unconstitutional. Even though the plaintiffs have the burden of proof, all Gov. Christie (who was a fairly astute lawyer and federal prosecutor in his day) has to do is show the court that there's doubt.
With regard to irreparable harm, the plaintiffs said this in their complaint:
[A]uthorization of sports gambling in New Jersey would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition. Plaintiffs cannot be compensated in money damages for the harm that sports gambling poses to the character and integrity of their respective sporting events. Once their reputations and goodwill have been compromised, and the bonds of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams have been broken, Plaintiffs will have been irreparably injured in a manner that cannot be measured in dollars.
Once you consider the undeniable fact that, even without being lawful, sports betting is a multi-billion-dollar industry, the irreparable harm argument is almost laughable. Further, the NJ law specifically carves out local collegiate sports betting from being permissible, which chips away even more of the NCAA's assertion that they will be irreparably harmed by the law.
But there are a couple more reasons that New Jersey will prevail. Say what you want about Chris Christie; you may not like him, his mouth, or his politics, but he has a proven track record of winning. Finally, the pink elephant in the room is Atlantic City, NJ, which for all intents and purposes is the Gambling Capital of the East Coast. With all due respect to Mike Florio, I don't believe that the Third Circuit's ruling on sports betting in Delaware will be controlling in this case. As I said back in November, the state of New Jersey spent a great deal of money getting this law passed. They knew about PASPA, and they got sports betting in NJ on the ballot anyway. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't cheap, and they wouldn't have done it if they didn't believe that the benefits outweighed the risks.
Complaint for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief, No. 3:12-cv-04947 (D.N.J. filed Aug. 7, 2012) (PDF)
Tim Dahlberg, Time to do away with sports betting stigma
PHOTO CREDIT: DonkeyHotey