WEEKLY FEATURE: Taking the Long Shot

New Jersey has filed a challenge to a 22-year-old federal law that prevents sports betting in the state with the U.S. Supreme Court. While there is no guarantee the court will hear the case, the petition does address the division between state and federal laws—a legal point that may interest the court.

New Jersey has filed a challenge to a federal sports-betting ban before the U.S. Supreme Court and is asking the court to overturn the 22-year-old law that prevents the state from offering sports betting at its casinos and racetracks.

The state’s appeal, backed by Governor Chris Christie, was filed February 12 and may represent the last chance New Jersey has to overturn the federal ban. The state has lost three times in lower courts to overturn the law, which is supported by the NCAA and professional sports leagues.

The Supreme Court agrees to hear less than 100 cases a year out of more than 10,000 petitions filed, but New Jersey legislators are hopeful that the nature of the case—which pits state’s rights against federal law—will attract the court’s interest.

“I think they’re going to take the case because it’s of great magnitude—of social issues that have been on the front burner of the Supreme Court in recent years,” New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, one of the law’s chief sponsors, said to the Newark Star-Ledger.

The state is challenging the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which banned sports betting in all but four states—Nevada, Delaware. Oregon and Montana—which already had forms of sports betting in place when the law was enacted. Of those states, only Nevada has a true casino sports book.

State officials claim that the law unfairly restricts sports betting in other states not grandfathered—a violation of equal sovereignty—and violates the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment. The amendment gives states the right to regulate matters not provided to the federal government by the Constitution. New Jersey has argued that the federal ban “commandeers” the powers of the state Legislature.

The state argues that there is no federal law that bans sports betting, but rather the 1992 law prohibits “government entities” from authorizing and regulating sports betting.

“It impermissibly trenches on the states’ authority to regulate their own citizens, and it does so in a manner that discriminates among the states,” the state wrote in its appeal. “That double-barreled infringement on the sovereign prerogatives of the states calls out for review.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and all four major sports leagues in the country—NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB—sued New Jersey in 2012 claiming that a New Jersey law allowing for sports betting would harm sports throughout the country. The suit was joined by the U.S. Justice Department.

The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state and enforced the ban and then upheld the ruling on appeal. A later decision by the Appeals Court denied the state a chance to re-argue the case before the court.

The Appeals Court ruled that Congress had the power to enact a law and rationally grandfather states with existing laws. The court said in its decision that New Jersey should seek to repeal the law in Congress, rather than overturn it judicially.

New Jersey officials have been pushing for sports betting to help Atlantic City’s struggling casino market and the state’s horseracing tracks, which have also been struggling. In 2011, a referendum on allowing sports betting in the state was passed by New Jersey voters.

The owners of Monmouth Park Racetrack filed their own petition with the high court last week, the Ledger reported.

“It could mean the difference between becoming an economically viable racetrack facility or not,” Ronald Riccio, the track’s top attorney, told the paper. “And if Monmouth Park is forced some day to close, it’s going to do significant damage to the entire equestrian industry in New Jersey.”

The Supreme Court is not expected to make a decision on whether to hear the case until the end of May, according to reports.