TRENTON, N.J. — Pro sports leagues have experienced nearly unprecedented success despite the existence of illegal and legal gambling and therefore can't claim harm if New Jersey legalizes sports betting, an attorney for the state argued Tuesday.
"There's no evidence that gambling has hurt the sports leagues and their reputation," said Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general who has joined the state's legal team. "All evidence shows sports have grown in this country alongside the growth of gambling, some legal, some not legal. Illegal gambling on the Super Bowl has made the Super Bowl the most watched event on TV in the world."
U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp heard arguments Tuesday from both sides as he weighs whether to throw out the lawsuit by the NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA or to let it proceed to trial. After presentations lasting about 90 minutes from Olson and plaintiffs' attorney Jeffrey Mishkin, Shipp said he would issue a written ruling by Friday.
The leagues filed suit in August after Gov. Chris Christie vowed to defy a federal ban on sports wagering. New Jersey's Legislature enacted a sports betting law in January, limiting bets to the Atlantic City casinos and the state's horse racing tracks.
New Jersey has said it plans to license sports betting as soon as January, and in October published regulations governing licenses. But the state agreed to give the leagues 30 days' notice before it grants any licenses and hasn't done so yet, an attorney general's office spokesman said.
If Shipp sides with the state and dismisses the lawsuit, the leagues are expected to appeal immediately. The federal government also could join the case.
A 1990s federal law prohibited sports gambling in all states but Nevada, where bettors can gamble on single games, and three other states that were allowed to offer multi-game parlay betting. New Jersey has argued the law usurps the authority of state legislatures and discriminates by "grandfathering" in some states.
Tuesday's hearing revolved around whether the leagues and NCAA could show they would suffer harm from New Jersey's action, thereby giving them standing in court.
"There will be greater suspicion about all of the normal incidents in the game, every dropped pass, every missed free throw" if sports gambling is allowed to spread, Mishkin argued. "They're our games. That gives us a personal stake, and that gives us standing."
He disputed the state's contention that fantasy sports leagues, which the pro leagues sanction, are tantamount to gambling because they dilute fans' allegiance to a specific team.
"The leagues view fantasy as just that: Pretend, made up," he said. "It's like the difference between playing Monopoly and being a real estate agent."
The two sides offered contrasting views on how illegal sports gambling would be affected if New Jersey's law stands.
Olson contended the leagues haven't shown that they would be harmed by the state's regulating and supervising what has been occurring in the shadows for decades. He noted that the leagues are in regular contact with Las Vegas sports books to monitor suspicious shifts in point spreads.
Mishkin said, far from converting illegal gamblers into legal gamblers, the opposite would occur.
"Legalizing gambling doesn't regulate illegal gambling, it fuels more gambling," he said. "You're going to create a whole new category of gamblers. Then they'll find out they can get better odds with the illegal bookie, and that their earnings aren't going to be reported with the illegal bookie."