|New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law allowing sports betting in January. (Getty Images)|
NEWARK, N.J. -- The NCAA and the four major professional leagues sued New Jersey on Tuesday, saying the state's plan to allow sports betting violates federal law and threatens the "character and integrity" of sporting events.
Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, the National Football league and the NCAA filed the lawsuit in federal court in Trenton.
The leagues say New Jersey's proposal to allow sports betting is "in clear and flagrant violation" of a 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which restricts betting on collegiate and professional games to four states: Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. New Jersey was given a chance to become the fifth state, but declined to act during a yearlong window from 1993 to 1994.
Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in January to allow sports betting at New Jersey's 12 casinos, four racetracks and on the site of a closed racetrack. In May, he said he would move forward with the regulations without attempting to get the 1992 law overturned. The regulations were published in July and are expected to become effective within the next two months.
Christie on Tuesday predicted the state would prevail.
"I don't believe that the federal government has the right to decide that only certain states can have sports gambling. On what basis?" Christie said. "And it doesn't acknowledge that there is illegal sports gambling going on in every state in America, as we speak. So why is this more injurious than illegal sports gambling to the operations of the league or the NCAA?"
The leagues' lawsuit said that allowing sports gambling in New Jersey would threaten the "reputations and goodwill" between fans and teams. Damage to that bond, the lawsuit states, would cause irreversible damage to sports franchises.
"The sponsorship, operation, advertising, promotion, licensure and authorization of sports gambling in New Jersey," the lawsuit states, "would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion that individual plays and final scores of games may have been influenced by factors other than honest athletic competition."
The leagues say they will fight the expansion of sports betting because it "undermines the public's faith and confidence in the character of amateur and professional team sports."
That fight could continue in other venues. A bill is pending in the California Assembly to allow sports betting, and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBindo, R-N.J., sponsored a federal bill that would give states a four-year window to enact legislation to allow for it.
The New Jersey law allows casinos and racetracks to operate sports betting pools that are approved by the state Division of Gaming Enforcement and the New Jersey Racing Commission. It also allows the state to issue licenses for sports betting parlors.
The state constitution prohibits gambling on collegiate athletic events taking place in New Jersey and where one or more New Jersey team is competing.
Half the revenue from the new law will go toward gambling-treatment programs.
The Casino Association of New Jersey said in a statement Tuesday that the casinos should "be legally able to offer sports betting as do our counterparts in Nevada." The association said it hopes the end result "is a level playing field for all New Jersey casinos."
State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, a longtime supporter of sports gambling who sponsored the bill Christie signed into law, said he and others welcomed the lawsuit.
The sooner the federal law is overturned, Lesniak said, "the quicker we'll be able to start sports betting in New Jersey."