Wait, What? NBA, MLB Meet With NJ Lawmakers Ahead Of Sports Betting Decision

The wait for a decision on NJ sports betting continues. A ruling in Murphy vs NCAA is expected any time before the US Supreme Court’s summer recess in June.

Looking to cash in as soon as a positive ruling is potentially made are New Jersey casinos, which have been pairing off with sportsbooks to get businesses up and running as soon as possible.

But the MLB and the NBA are knocking at Jersey’s door in search of some sort of regulation to protect the integrity of their respective leagues.

League reps meet with NJ legislators

Over the past few months, representatives from the MLB and the NBA have met privately with New Jersey state legislative leaders as well as with the top aide to Gov. Phil Murphy. The parties have reportedly discussed the ramifications of the Supreme Court scrapping a 26-year-old federal prohibition on state-regulated sports betting.

For years, both professional leagues have locked horns with New Jersey. Now, the MLB and the NBA are preparing for what seems like the inevitable: legalized sports betting in New Jersey and across the country.

Ocean Resort Casino, for example, has already made note of its intent to offer a sportsbook. And Hard Rock Atlantic City teamed up with Gaming Innovation Group, which would allow the new casino to offer online sports betting as a complement to its land-based offerings.

In a statement, the MLB said that legalized sports betting is “a very real possibility in New Jersey, and we have an obligation to our fans and our sport to provide our perspective to ensure any sports betting operations properly protect the integrity of our game.”

The NBA has made it known that its “preference is a comprehensive federal approach rather than state-by-state regulation, but we will continue to work with all states seeking our input on a regulated framework that protects the integrity of our game.”

Fighting words between NJ and sports leagues

For years New Jersey has been in search of ways to get around the sports betting law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act otherwise known as PASPA.

In 2011, voters approved a referendum — and a law was passed in 2012 — to legitimize the business. Chris Christie, then the state’s governor, figured a battle would ensue and challenged leagues to “let them try to stop us.”

The NCAA, NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB sued the state, noting that the business New Jersey created would “irreparably harm” American sports. Ultimately, it was ruled that New Jersey was in violation of PASPA. The Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s rebuttal, but New Jersey was not done pushing.

The state repealed an old state statute that banned NJ sports betting at casinos and racetracks and maintained some leeway on what would be allowed. A federal appeals court ruled that such legislation was still in violation of PASPA. New Jersey finally earned an audience with the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on Murphy vs. NCAA in December.

Why are the leagues intent on meeting?

As a way of skirting the 1992 federal law, New Jersey racetracks and Atlantic City casinos could offer sports betting with seemingly no regulation if the US Supreme Court rules in its favor. The MLB and the NBA are not big fans of such an NJ sports betting scenario.

The two leagues have expressed their desire to help design some sort of NJ sports betting regulations. (Interesting tidbit: The NBA prefers a national regulatory structure rather than a state-by-state approach. The MLB has remained mum on its preferences pending the case’s outcome.)

New Jersey legislative leaders and reps from both pro leagues are reportedly discussing potential rules that would be put in place should sports wagering be legalized. Among them are limiting what venues can offer their customers.

“Sports betting presents significant integrity risks,” the MLB said in a statement, “and to manage these risks, air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators, and the sports leagues are required to closely monitor wagers to prevent potential manipulation.”

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What could happen with NJ sports betting?

The two leagues have focused on lobbying in New Jersey. But they are also actively lobbying with more than 10 other states that have pending legislation on the books.

Another interesting side note: The NBA and MLB are litigants in the NJ sports betting case being deliberated by the Supreme Court. So these meetings could possibly signal one thing: PASPA will be struck down by the court.

Yes, the NBA and MLB are interested in developing some kind of regulatory system. Really, though, they are looking for a cut of the action, most likely in the form of an “integrity fee.” To some, this boils down to receiving a percentage of all wagers as well as control of data rights.

Consider that the head of Monmouth Park, New Jersey’s largest racetrack, estimated that $10 billion was being gambled illegally in the state every year. Any cut of those wagers, even a minimal percentage, is well worth it to the leagues. Still, that is just more money being taken away from states.

“I think they’re starting to realize it’s not about them lobbying against it anymore,” one legislative source said of the leagues. “They’re realizing, if this is going to happen, they’re going to need a seat at the table.”

It is unclear if New Jersey is willing — or if it will be required — to pass a new law regulating sports betting or if the state could simply use the guidelines drawn out via the Division of Gaming Enforcement. These meetings suggest a new law is possible.

One would be hard-pressed to believe that any state would be willing to pass legislation that includes some sort of revenue for the leagues. But these meetings will surely continue.

And certainly, the leagues will continue to push until they are satisfied with an outcome.

About the Author

Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.