TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A federal judge on Friday granted a request from the four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the NCAA to temporarily stop New Jersey from allowing legalized sports betting.
U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp issued a temporary restraining order after a request by the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA. He said the leagues have shown that they would be irreparably harmed if the state's casinos and racetracks were permitted to allow sports betting.
The leagues' lawsuit against the state to permanently prevent it from allowing sports betting will proceed.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a law on Oct. 17 that effectively repeals the state's ban on sports wagering and allows it at racetracks and casinos.
"This is a temporary order while the core issues surrounding sports wagering in New Jersey are fully considered by the court," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in a statement. "We continue to have full confidence in the strength and appropriateness of our position as we move forward in the litigation."
Monmouth Park racetrack said that its plan to start accepting bets on Sunday has been put on hold following the decision.
"While we are disappointed not to be able to start this Sunday, we are confident that sports betting will be coming to New Jersey in the very near future," Dennis Drazin, a legal consultant for the racetrack, said in a statement.
No other racetracks or casinos have revealed plans yet to offer sports betting.
New Jersey would have become only the second state in the country, after Nevada, to offer wagering on individual games at betting locations known as sports books. Delaware offers multi-game parlay pools where bettors must pick several games correctly to win money.
In an opinion read in court Friday, Shipp said he based his granting of the temporary restraining order partly on the public interest in knowing whether state law is in conflict with federal law. He also said the leagues demonstrated they would be "irreparably harmed" if sports betting were allowed in New Jersey.
"More legal gambling leads to more total gambling, which in turns leads to an increased incentive to fix plaintiffs' matches," Shipp said. New Jersey's permission of sports gambling "would engender the same ills" that the 1992 federal law at the heart of the current legal fight sought to combat, he added.
New Jersey already lost a constitutional challenge to that law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which bans state-sponsored sports gambling. Instead, Christie relied on a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that said PASPA didn't prohibit New Jersey "from repealing its ban on sports wagering." The leagues have claimed the state is nevertheless violating the law because racetracks and casinos are heavily regulated by the state.
Shipp indicated the temporary restraining order was necessary to ensure the issue is argued in court. The leagues and the state traded briefs this week up until Thursday.
"At this stage of the proceedings, the court can't read the 3rd Circuit's order so as to render PASPA null," Shipp said. He was to issue a schedule for further court hearings later Friday.
New Jersey lawmakers see sports betting as a lifeline for the state's flagging casino and horse racing industries. In Nevada, nearly $3.5 billion was wagered on sports in 2012, according to the American Gaming Association, a Washington-based trade group. More than 95 percent of that was returned to patrons in winnings, the group estimated.
Estimates of illegal sports betting nationwide run into the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.