In 2011, voters in New Jersey overwhelmingly voted in favor of a referendum that would establish state-sponsored sports gambling, which is legal in only four states — Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon — thanks to a 1992 federal law called Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned legalized sports gambling in the other 46 states. But the country’s main sports leagues went to court to block New Jersey from establishing sports gambling, and two federal courts agreed with them.
In one final attempt, New Jersey petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, but it declined to do so in June.
Among the sports leagues that sought to halt the expansion of sports gambling to New Jersey was the NBA. In a court deposition that was released to the public in December 2012, former commissioner David Stern slammed the state’s effort, which was led by Gov. Chris Christie:
“The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two, and they don’t care that it’s at our potential loss,” Stern said when asked how the advent of sports betting in New Jersey would harm the NBA.
“And wholly apart from the fact that a governor, who’s a former U.S. Attorney, has chosen to attack a federal law which causes me pause for completely different reasons since I’ve at times sworn to similar oaths about upholding the law of the United States,” Stern continued.
Stern has stepped down since then, replaced by Adam Silver, and the new commissioner’s stance on sports gambling could not be more different than his predecessor’s.
While the NBA did not support New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie’s plan to implement sports gambling, the league does expect to face and profit from the broadening of legal sports gaming in the U.S., Silver said at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York.
“It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada and we will ultimately participate in that,” said Silver, 52.
Silver, who has been with the NBA for 22 years and replaced former Commissioner David Stern in February, said that he doesn’t have any moral issue with sports betting. The league, which already allows teams to create marketing deals with casinos, would further profit from the legalization of sports wagering outside Nevada, he said.
“If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it,” Silver said. “That’s where we’re going to see it pay dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.”
New Jersey probably won’t be leading the charge, for now, even if the state’s casinos in Atlantic City are dropping like flies. In June, the New Jersey legislature essentially followed the road map set by states that have legalized marijuana, overwhelmingly passing two bills that called for the repeal of the state’s ban on sports gambling. In essence, the legislators were saying: We are going to legalize this, and if the federal government wants to stop it, it can go ahead and try.
But, perhaps in an attempt to be seen as a law-and-order Republican with a possible 2016 presidential bid ahead of him, Christie vetoed the two bills last month, citing the need to follow federal law:
Christie said he still favors sports betting, but that the state needs to “determine if a different approach towards sports wagering would comply with federal law.”
“While I do not agree with the Circuit Court’s decision, I do believe that the rule of law is sacrosanct, binding on all Americans,” he wrote. “That duty adheres with special solemnity to those elected officials privileged to swear and oath to uphold the laws in our nation.”