WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up New Jersey’s bid to allow sports betting at its casinos and racetracks, a case that could lead other states to seek a share of the lucrative market.
The justices will review a lower court ruling against the state, which hopes to capture some of the estimated $150 billion illegally wagered on sports each year.
Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature tried for years to legalize sports gambling to bolster the casino and horse racing industries. The casino industry, after a period of job losses and closings, has lately been doing better.
Christie said he was encouraged by the court’s decision to take the case up.
“We’re not declaring victory but at least we’re in the game and that’s where we want to be,” Christie said.
New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat who has led the state’s effort to legalize sports gambling, said a win for the state would give an additional boost to casinos.
“Atlantic City is going to be packed when we win this case,” said Lesniak, who introduced legislation to overturn the ban in 2009. “Sports betting will lead to people staying for several days, not just playing a few hours and going home. During football season, the NCAA tournament, the World Cup, people will be flocking to Atlantic City.”
The case will be argued in the fall. Daniel Wallach, a lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and expert in sports law, said the case could lead to a nationwide repeal of the federal ban.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the New Jersey law last year, ruling that the law violated the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 that forbids state-authorized sports gambling.
“This is the day that New Jersey has been waiting for for years,” said Wallach, who has closely followed New Jersey’s legal efforts to overturn the ban.
The court jumped into the case even after the Trump administration urged the justices not to get involved, putting the governor and the president he campaigned for on opposite sides.
President Donald Trump once owned the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, which closed last October under the ownership of a fellow billionaire, Carl Icahn, who sold it in March to Hard Rock International. The company plans to reopen under its own brand next year.
Speaking on a sports radio show this month, Christie criticized the federal government for restricting sports betting while allowing states to legalize recreational marijuana even though it’s illegal under federal law.
The case has lasted nearly as long as Christie has been in office. New Jersey voters passed a nonbinding referendum to allow sports betting in 2011.
The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state in 2012 after Christie signed a sports betting law.
Legal sports gambling is allowed in Nevada and three other states that approved some form of wagering before the federal law went into effect. Nevada is the only state to allow single-game wagering.
Congress gave New Jersey a one-time opportunity to become the fifth state before the ban was enacted, but the state failed to pass a sports betting law in time.
Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Wisconsin joined New Jersey’s effort to have the case heard.
This month, the American Gaming Association announced the creation of a coalition involving organizations of attorneys general and police, policymakers and others to advocate for the repeal of the ban that the industry said has fueled the illegal sports betting market.