NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Five years after being sued by the four major pro sports leagues and scolded by their top executives for seeking to overturn a federal ban on sports gambling, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may be on the verge of having the last word.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in New Jersey's challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 law that barred all states but Nevada and three others from authorizing sports gambling. Nevada is the only state to offer single-game wagering.
Christie said Wednesday he will attend Monday's arguments and that he is "cautiously optimistic."
A decision is due by late spring, and states across the country are poised to offer sports gambling if the court strikes down all or part of the law. New Jersey's Monmouth Park Racetrack already has spent more than $1 million to build a lounge that can be transformed into a sports betting parlor in a matter of weeks.
It's been a long road for Christie, who put a sports betting referendum on the ballot in 2011 that passed overwhelmingly. He signed a law in 2012 allowing it at casinos and racetracks and was sued by the NFL, NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA, all of which argued that expanding gambling would damage the integrity of their games.
In depositions, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern said New Jersey "has no idea what it's doing and doesn't care because all it's interested in is making a buck or two." Then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said he was "really appalled" by Christie's actions.
Both commissioners' successors have taken a different tack, and have acknowledged that legalized gambling is likely to happen and can enhance fans' interest. Of the four leagues, only the NFL has remained steadfastly opposed to legalized gambling
Christie said Wednesday he used the same approach to sports betting as when he was U.S. attorney for New Jersey before becoming governor.
"I used to ask the assistant U.S. attorneys to sit around the table and give me all the different odds about winning and losing and what they thought about the judge, or about the jury, and I would finally get down to say: 'Do you think he's guilty or don't you? And can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?'" he said.
"In this instance I was like, 'Do we believe we're right? Do we believe states have the right to determine for themselves what happens regarding gaming inside their own borders?' I believe we're right."
Federal judges have not agreed. The case was met with defeat at the district court level in New Jersey and twice at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. It also has cost New Jersey taxpayers millions in legal fees — nearly $3 million alone from August 2012, when the leagues filed suit, to the end of the following year.
Christie said Wednesday the effort will have been worth it even if the court rules against the state.
"If you're unwilling to take risks, then you're never going to achieve great things," he said. "Sometimes that means you take risks and the risks don't work out. I think we made an educated risk. No matter which way it goes, I think it was the right decision to make. And by the way, it was the will of the people who voted in a referendum in broad numbers that they wanted sports gaming in their state. So part of this is also making sure you execute upon the will of the people you represent."
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