Corzine to file brief supporting lawsuit

Updated: June 24, 2009, 9:59 AM ET
By Chad Millman | ESPN The Magazine

New Jersey governor Jon Corzine is ready to file a brief in support of an existing lawsuit claiming the 1992 federal sports betting ban is unconstitutional, a source said on Tuesday.

It is expected to be filed as early as next week, according to the source.

New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak filed a lawsuit in March in Newark's U.S. District Court claiming the 1992 Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act is unconstitutional and violates state's rights.

Lesniak filed his lawsuit shortly after Delaware governor Jack Markell proposed reinstating sports betting in his state. Delaware was among four states grandfathered by the 1992 law, since it already had sports betting laws on its books.

"I welcome Gov. Corzine to the fight," Lesniak said. "And I invite other governors to stand up for their states as well."

This move by Corzine, who would become partner in Lesniak's lawsuit once the brief of support is filed, would be significant because:

• Historically, sports betting hasn't been at the forefront of discussions about legalized gambling. But Corzine is reacting to Delaware approving it, the nationwide financial crisis and a recent poll indicating the majority of New Jersey residents want it.

• This enhances the lawsuit's chances of winning and the federal betting ban being overturned. Some legal scholars say the suit wouldn't be a legitimate threat to existing law until a state claimed Congress was violating its rights. Now one is.

The betting ban, officially called the Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), was proposed by former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley in the early 1990s and passed in 1992. It prohibits states from being in the bookmaking business but exempts Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware, the only four states that had existing sports betting laws when the act became law. In March, Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware, which hadn't had sports betting in more than 30 years, proposed reinstituting sports wagering to help close an $800 million budget gap. The Delaware legislature approved the bill in May and, this fall, sports fans in Delaware will be able to bet on NFL games.

Shortly after Markell announced his plans in March, Lesniak filed his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the betting ban violated his state's rights to raise revenue and regulate activity within its borders. New Jersey, once the east coast's gambling Mecca because of Atlantic City, has been challenged from all sides the past two decades. Nearly every state along the packed eastern seaboard now has some kind of gaming -- from slot machines at racetracks to land-based casinos. With neighboring Delaware expanding into sports betting, Lesniak, and now Corzine, believe there is one less reason for tourists and gamblers to visit Atlantic City.

Both Lesniak and Corzine think the state could earn an extra $100 million from sports betting revenue.

"New Jersey is getting the raw end of this deal," Lesniak told ESPN The Magazine after he filed the lawsuit.

The move comes in the midst of an unprecedented run of support for legalizing gaming of all forms. In recent weeks, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's bill to regulate and tax Internet gambling, specifically poker, has gained more than 30 co-sponsors. It is expected to be debated in the Finance Committee, which Frank chairs, sometime in mid-July.

That's around the same time the Department of Justice is expected to issue its response to Lesniak and Corzine's lawsuit.

Chad Millman is a senior deputy editor at ESPN The Magazine.

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