Monmouth Park image courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
In two weeks, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp will issue a ruling on a case that will have a profound impact on the state of horse racing in New Jersey. What is at issue is the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992. That bill declared that only four states (Nevada, Montana, Delaware, and Oregon) could have some form of legal sports betting, and after those the door would close on any further expansion.
|State of New Jersey photo|
Last year, however, New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize sports betting by an overwhelming majority, and Gov. Chris Christie respected their will by signing a law legalizing sports betting at New Jersey’s horse tracks and casinos.
The New Jersey law has been challenged by every major sports league, the NCAA and the federal government. Christie has been resolute: “If someone wants to stop us, let them try to stop us.”
What Christie and the state of New Jersey essentially are arguing is that the federal government has the right to regulate sports gambling or to not do so, but they can’t say that some states have the right to have it while others don’t. The federal government’s argument has been that the Constitution gives Congress exactly that right – to regulate the industry and to treat states differently.
The odds are stacked against New Jersey winning their case, and it won’t be pretty along the way. Already the NCAA has announced they are moving their major tournaments that had been planned in the state. The 2014 Super Bowl is still on – for now. Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, called New Jersey’s attempt “corruption.” From the perspective of New Jersey, they have no choice but to fight PAPSA, long odds or not.
From casinos in Atlantic City to the state’s horse racing tracks, gambling is a major part of the state’s economy. And lately those businesses have suffered under the weight of expanded casinos in Pennsylvania and the loss of on-track handle to online wagering.
Monmouth Park has led the charge on behalf of the state’s horse racing industry to win this court battle. The track has been in serious financial trouble, surviving for years in part from money given to the tracks by Atlantic City casinos in exchange for not seeking slot machines. Recently Gov. Christie vetoed a bill that would give the racetracks an additional $30 million in subsidies from money from the deregulation of the casinos that the tracks planned to use for purses. Without that money and without sports betting, Monmouth Park fears for their very survival (and with them “New Jersey’s economy, the preservation of open space, and the maintenance of thousands of jobs”).
To that end, Monmouth Park has indicated that, depending on the ruling on this legal challenge in a couple of weeks, they intend to be the first applicant for a license to issue sports bets under the new law. They already have started renovations on a part of the grandstands they intend to convert to a Las Vegas-style sportsbook. And they have indicated that if the legal challenge drags on that they will offer gamblers an opportunity for “free play” wagers on sporting events for prizes instead of cash.
COULD VEGAS-STYLE SPORTSBOOK COME TO MONMOUTH?
“We’re not going to accept that Monmouth will fail under any circumstances,”John Forbes, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association told “NJToday”. Forbes indicated that Dennis Drazen, former president of Monmouth Park and currently the lead attorney representing New Jersey’s racing industry in the legal fight for sports betting, has his full confidence.
Drazen told Forbes, “I’m not saving it for you, I’m saving it for your grandchildren.”
Hopefully Drazen, Forbes, and Christie will be successful in backing down the Goliath of the major sports leagues and the United States government. It’s a longshot, but any horseplayer will tell you that longshots come in from time to time. If this one does, just remember that unlike at the racing teller’s window, your grandchildren will need to be 21 to place a bet at the sportsbook.