By Jay Cook |
LITTLE SILVER – Ronald J. Riccio can recall spending days at Monmouth Park as an eight-year-old boy, watching alongside his father and his father’s best friend as thoroughbreds sprinted around the track.
The racetrack’s never been more than a few miles away from his Little Silver home.
But Riccio, now 71, has supported the Oceanport racing institution in a different manner over the past few years. He had turned his weekend racing program in for an extensive law brief as the lead counsel for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, representing Monmouth Park, through the Murphy v. NCAA Supreme Court case fighting for legalized sports betting.
After a decision disbanding the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 was decided Monday from the court – meaning all states can have a legal and regulated sports wagering industry – Riccio was relieved to know his beloved venue will not be shuttering any time soon.
“I know so many people over there, many of my best friends I met at Monmouth Park,” Riccio told The Two River Times on Tuesday. “To be able to have a hand in keeping a place that holds so many memories for me alive and to help it flourish is just icing on the cake.”
Riccio is a former dean of Seton Hall University School of Law from 1988 to 1999 and has been practicing law for well over four decades. Murphy v. NCAA was his first case in front of the Supreme Court, but Riccio said he never felt the nerves nor wavered in his support of Monmouth Park.
The crux of the case was based on overturning PASPA, a federal law which allowed sports betting only in Nevada and three other states. New Jersey had tried since 2011 to permit legalized sports betting after a statewide referendum permitted lawmakers to legalize it but was challenged twice by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA in the coming years. Lawmakers had crafted two bills and even suffered a veto from then-Gov. Chris Christie throughout that time.
Though above all, Murphy v. NCAA “is a landmark decision,” said Riccio. “The effect of the decision is to narrow the federal government’s power and to expand the state’s sovereign rights to regulate its people as it wants to regulate them.”
Riccio, who taught constitutional law for over 20 years at Seton Hall University, said this case could have major implications with future states’ rights issues currently in the news. Decisions down the road on marijuana legalization, sanctuary city creation and environmental regulations could reference this sports betting case.
But the immediate impact will be on Monmouth Park as it’s set to take New Jersey’s first legal sports wagers later this summer. Predictions are that sports betting in New Jersey could be a $10 billion industry, some estimate.
“Monmouth Park has been for several years trying to stay alive as a viable, self-sustaining racetrack that employs hundreds of people, that has a huge impact on the state economy, on the preservation of open spaces,” said Riccio.
“Just to be able to relieve the anxiety that all the workers over there were feeling about the future of Monmouth Park, to me, that’s as gratifying as anything else,” he added.
While the four major sports leagues and the state’s high-priced legal representation captured interest, it was Riccio and his team at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter who helped lay the legal groundwork for the case, said Edward B. Deutsch, founder and managing partner of the firm.
“Ron and our people, the brief work and the strategy, was brilliant,” Deutsch told The Two River Times this week. “I think that he and our team, more than anybody, is responsible for this result.”
Deutsch said Riccio is “the best constitutional lawyer in New Jersey.”
Former state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr., who sponsored state bills in support of legalized sports betting, said the Supreme Court decision “will create jobs, revitalize our horse industry and boost tourism for the areas surrounding Monmouth Park.”
Kyrillos added that “few understand it was Dean Ron Riccio and the McElroy Deutsch law firm that forced this outcome.”
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