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Appeals court gives New Jersey’s quest for legal sports betting another shot

Wagering on sports events currently is legal only in Nevada, but some lawmakers in New Jersey have been seeking to change that for years. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken, File)

A federal appeals court revived New Jersey’s years-long quest for legal sports betting Wednesday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia voted to vacate an earlier ruling against New Jersey’s attempt to allow sports betting in casinos and racetracks. In August, by a 2-1 vote, a panel of 3rd Circuit judges ruled in favor of the NCAA, NFL, and other professional sports leagues who sought to block legal sports gambling in New Jersey.

Wednesday’s ruling overturns that decision, and means the full 3rd Circuit – possibly 12 or more judges – will hear the case in a rare procedure called a re-hearing en banc.

“I’m jumping for joy,” said State Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat who has pushed for legal sports betting for years in the hopes it drives business to Atlantic City’s struggling casinos. “I would suggest everyone book their rooms in Atlantic City for Super Bowl week, because we should have sports betting by then.”

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Lesniak may be a bit too optimistic, according to Daniel Wallach, a sports and gaming attorney at Becker & Poliakoff in South Florida who has followed the case closely. Wallach estimated oral arguments in the case could happen some time between December and February. Judges could then take several months before issuing a ruling.

A ruling in favor of New Jersey most certainly would bring a petition from the sports leagues for the Supreme Court to hear the case, said Wallach, who thinks this case could end up in the nation’s highest court.

“In my view, no pun intended, all bets are off,” Wallach said of possible outcomes. “This is an important case with national significance.”

Wednesday’s decision comes at an interesting time for professional sports leagues, who have put themselves in an increasingly precarious position when it comes to sports gambling. While the leagues have long fought to keep sports betting mostly illegal, the NFL and MLB have endorsed daily fantasy, a controversial industry which some lawmakers have argued is gambling that is legal only due to laws written when the daily fantasy didn’t exist. Last year, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called for nationwide, regulated legal sports betting.

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