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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
DOJ Argues No Such Thing as "Unregulated" Sports Betting Since Casinos & Racetracks Still Subject to Licensing Requirements; Backtracks on Prior Statements that NJ Free to Repeal Sports Betting Ban

Late last night, the United States Department of Justice (the "DOJ") filed its memorandum of law in opposition to New Jersey's motion to clarify and/or modify the federal court injunction that has been in place since February 28, 2013 prohibiting the State from authorizing, licensing or regulating sports wagering at casinos and racetracks.

The DOJ's opposition brief largely mirrors the Leagues' brief filed earlier in the day, but it is noteworthy in two respects. First, as expected, the DOJ argues that any "repeal" of the state-law prohibition on sports wagering which is limited solely to casinos and racetracks would still run afoul of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act ("PASPA") because New Jersey's casinos and racetracks remain subject to an extensive licensing and regulatory scheme by the State. Thus, as the DOJ points out, "even under an attempted reformulation of the Sports Wagering Act, it would still be impossible to operate a sports wagering pool without first having a State-issued license." The DOJ argues that "[a]s long as the only entities that may engage in sports wagering must be licensed by New Jersey, New Jersey is in effect licensing sports wagering, which is squarely within PASPA's licensing prohibition."

Second, the DOJ backtracks from its prior statements that New Jersey is free to repeal its state-law prohibition against sports wagering "in whole or in part" without violating PASPA. As I detailed in an earlier post, the DOJ (through U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr.) made these unequivocal statements throughout the prior judicial proceedings, including in appellate briefing before the Third Circuit, at oral argument, and in a filing made with the U.S. Supreme Court. In his Third Circuit brief, Mr. Fishman wrote that "nothing in [PASPA] requires New Jersey to maintain or enforce its sports wagering prohibitions." Later, when asked at the June 26, 2013 oral argument whether New Jersey could "repeal" its ban against sports wagering, Mr. Fishman responded "[a]s a matter of law, it could." When further pressed by the Third Circuit panel if such a repeal would violate PASPA, Mr. Fishman responded by saying "no." The U.S. Solicitor General reaffirmed this position ten months later in a filing with the Supreme Court when he stated that "PASPA does not even obligate New Jersey to leave in place state-law prohibitions against sports gambling that it had chosen to adopt prior to PASPA's enactment. To the contrary, New Jersey is free to repeal those prohibitions in whole or in part." (United States Brief to the Supreme Court in Opposition to Petitions for Writ of Certiorari (Nos. 13-967, 13-979 & 13-980), dated May 14, 2014, at p. 11)

How does the DOJ retreat from such clear and unequivocal statements? Easy. By ignoring two of them, and pointing to less damaging statements that are susceptible to differing interpretations. On page 17 of its opposition brief, the DOJ identifies three "selectively quoted" statements that New Jersey cites as evidencing the DOJ's acknowledgement that a partial repeal of the state-law prohibition on sports betting would not violate PASPA:
On page 28 of the appellate brief for the United States; Nothing in the statute requires New Jersey to maintain or enforce its sports wagering prohibitions." 
"On page 30 of the appellate brief for the United States: "[T]he bare repeal or non-enforcement of New Jersey's sports wagering prohibitions would not constitute such an 'authorization' because there would be no State statute or compact granting anyone authorization. to conduct sports wagering."
 At pages 68 and 69 of the appellate oral argument transcript; "[I]f New Jersey wants to tinker with its gambling statute in a reasonable exercise of state law and enforcement power, it's perfectly free to do that."
(DOJ Brief, p. 17)

While accusing New Jersey of using "selectively quoted" statements, isn't the DOJ guilty of the same thing here? There is no mention of Mr. Fishman's acknowledgment at oral argument that New Jersey was free to repeal its sports betting ban and that doing so would not violate PASPA. Nor is there any reference to the U.S. Solicitor General's incredible statement (from his Supreme Court filing) that New Jersey is free to repeal its state-law prohibitions "in whole or in part." It's as if the DOJ used hydrofluoric acid (Walter White-style) to make those prior statements disappear.

The DOJ offers an entirely unconvincing explanation as to the import of those prior statements (at least the ones that the DOJ has chosen to address). The DOJ contends that New Jersey has "misread" those statements and that it meant only to say that New Jersey has "options" when it comes to sports betting:
"These identified quotations reflect the United States' acknowledgment that New Jersey has options regarding sports wagering if it wishes to forego the licensing and the authorizing by law of sports wagering (as well as the other conduct prohibited by PASPA). The presence of those options demonstrates that there is no unconstitutional compulsion as New Jersey incorrectly suggests."
(DOJ Brief, pp. 17-18)

This does not even pass the giggle test. Expect New Jersey to hammer the DOJ on this point in its Reply Brief. But that doesn't necessarily mean that New Jersey will prevail on its motion. Far from it. As I wrote previously, I expect New Jersey's motion to be denied. It's not even a close call, as New Jersey's "implied repeal" and "severability" arguments are rather flimsy. But the real danger here is that Judge Shipp may go even further than just denying New Jersey's motion; he may clarify the injunction in a manner that is detrimental to New Jersey's future legislative efforts. For example, he could broaden the injunction to include language stating that while New Jersey is free to repeal its state-law prohibition against sports betting, it cannot limit such repeal to the State's racetracks and casinos given that they remain subject to an extensive state licensing and regulatory regime. Given the low likelihood of success, maybe New Jersey's best play here is to simply withdraw the motion, and focus on more legally sustainable efforts to bring sports betting to the Garden State. The moral of this story: Be careful what we wish for.

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