Legal Heavyweights Add Punch to State's Sports Betting Case
Campisi, Anthony, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
Two of the country's most prominent conservative lawyers are arguing opposite sides of a case that tests New Jersey's newest constitutional amendment -- a law that allows gambling on sports in the Garden State and runs square against the 20-year federal ban on betting.
The state, seeking to add legal firepower to an effort to invalidate the federal law that restricts sports bets, hired Theodore Olson, a solicitor general under former President George W. Bush who is also arguing the case seeking to overturn California's gay marriage ban. Olson is doing the work at a deeply discounted rate on a case that he sees as "groundbreaking."
In response, the college and professional sports leagues -- including the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League and Major League Baseball -- hired Paul Clement, who succeeded Olson as the Bush administration's top lawyer before the U.S. Supreme Court and led the charge earlier this year to overturn President Obama's signature health care legislation.
That two of the country's top attorneys have taken an interest in the case indicates that its outcome could have wide-ranging consequences as states are increasingly turning to gambling to balance budgets in a down economy and the industry pushes to expand into sports betting, observers say.
"The state is taking a pretty big step and is going after a significant constitutional challenge to a federal law," said Stephen D. Schrier, a partner at the Philadelphia firm of Blank Rome LLP who specializes in gambling law.
The state is arguing that a 1992 federal law limiting sports betting violates the U.S. Constitution and puts states like New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage. It also questions Congress's right to regulate New Jersey's sports betting industry.
Under a 1992 federal law, only four states - Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana - are allowed to have sports betting.
New Jersey invited the lawsuit - brought by the sports leagues in August - when voters approved a state constitutional amendment last year that permitted sports betting, which Governor Christie, a Republican, and legislative Democrats hope will help revive a struggling Atlantic City.
The sports leagues say that expanding gambling would lead fans to believe games were being fixed. Though the federal government hasn't gotten directly involved, Schrier said the Justice Department is following the suit closely.
U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp heard arguments in the case earlier this week, and a decision is expected today.
Whichever side loses is expected to appeal and both expect Olson to continue arguing the case for New Jersey.
"We expect Mr. Olson to be our voice in court," said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.
In an email, Olson said the case is "very important and groundbreaking."
"The issues are important constitutional questions which would be interesting to any lawyer, particularly one with my background and experience," he said.
At heart, Schrier said, are constitutional issues that must be resolved: whether the federal government is overstepping its bounds in trying to regulate sports betting that takes place within states' borders and whether prohibiting New Jersey from instituting the practice puts it at an unfair competitive disadvantage to the four states where it's permitted.
Rutgers-Newark law school dean John J. Farmer Jr. said having someone with Olson's experience could help the state make its case.
Olson first appeared on the national stage as counsel to former President Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra investigation and later represented George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the 2000 case that stopped ballot recounts in Florida and ensured Bush's election as president. …