NJ’s horsemen petition full appeals court to review sports betting ban – NorthJersey.com
Rulings on sports betting by a pair of three-judge federal appeals panels are so fundamentally contradictory that the full court of 23 judges must take up the case to resolve the conflict, attorneys for the state’s thoroughbred horsemen argued Tuesday in a court filing.
The horsemen cited as evidence the fact that Judge Julio Fuentes of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote the opinion for the 2-1 majority in 2013, and then last month was the lone dissenting judge in the latest ruling in the case. Both rulings blocked the addition of Las Vegas-style sports betting at the state’s struggling racetracks and casinos.
The appeals panels upheld a U.S. District Court judge’s decision striking down a state law that authorized state officials to oversee, regulate, and license sports betting operations at racetracks and Atlantic City casinos. While that language appeared to violate a 1992 federal law that banned 46 states from authorizing sports betting, attorneys for the state had argued that the federal law was unconstitutional.
In siding with the NFL, the NCAA and other major sports leagues who sued the state in 2011, the first appeals panel explained in its opinion that the 1992 federal law was proper because it did not “commandeer” the states into a specific action. Instead, Fuentes wrote that the state had “much room” either to repeal all of its sports betting prohibitions or to determine the “exact contours” of a partial repeal.
In response, state lawmakers last year passed an amended law that removed all state oversight of sports betting while leaving the racetracks and casinos with discretion to set up their own private sports betting operations. The second Third Circuit panel ruled 2-1 last month found that the revised language “effectively” authorized sports betting at those sites.
Fuentes vehemently disagreed, writing in his dissent that state officials had properly followed the original ruling in its new law.
“There is certainly no person better situated than Judge Fuentes … to understand and explain the conflict between” the two rulings, wrote Ron Riccio, an attorney for the horsemen.
Failure to permit sports betting at Monmouth Park — the only track or casino directly involved in the case — as a revenue booster for the beleaguered venue could mean “the end of New Jersey’s equine industry,” Riccio wrote. He added that “a similar fate may befall Atlantic City as casinos continue to close” without the added attraction of Las Vegas-style sports betting.
So-called “en banc” requests for a review by all of a circuit court judges rarely are granted. But Fuentes’ contention, in effect, that the second panel misunderstood his first opinion means that leaving the two rulings in place “would be an embarrassment to our judicial system,” Riccio wrote.
A response by the court — which denied a similar request two years ago — could come by the end of the month. If there is another denial, state sports betting advocates would be left with only a long-shot second attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.
The 23-year-old federal law bans sports betting except the extensive offerings in Nevada and the very limited options in three other states at the time the law was passed.
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