By John Burton |
OCEANPORT — It’s a little soon to pop the champagne cork, but supporters of Monmouth Park are welcoming a decision by the nation’s highest court to hear and rule on sports betting.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced last week that it would hear arguments in its next term supporting New Jersey’s position that sports betting should be allowed in the state’s racetracks and casinos.
This is something that not only the state, but the Monmouth Park racetrack here in the borough have been pushing for a number of years, to seek an exemption from the longstanding federal law prohibiting it in all but currently four states. Monmouth Park operators and its supporters have long maintained the struggling racing outlet needs additional revenue sources—hopefully ultimately resulting in casino-style gambling—to remain competitive.
Dennis Drazin is the Red Bank attorney who represents the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Darby Development, the track’s operator. He had acknowledged in the past that having the Supreme Court hear the matter would be a longshot.
But as horse players know, sometimes longshots come in.
“Having taken it up,” Drazin said, “we’re optimistic we’ll win on the merits.”
“I would think the fact the court is entertaining it,” said Oceanport Mayor John “Jay” Coffey, “means there is a modicum of hope, or more than a modicum of hope,” that they will rule in the state’s, and Monmouth Park’s, favor.
As has been its tradition, the U.S. Supreme Court offered no comment as to why it agreed to hear the matter. The court will hear it during its next term, beginning in October. Drazin suspected the court will hear it sometime in late fall or early winter and expected a decision “sometime in 2018.” The court renders its outstanding decisions by its late June recess.
The state has been looking to appeal the 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That legislation was approved by Congress to curb growing state-sponsored gambling. But because of a loophole written into the law, which New Jersey at the time failed to take advantage of, four states were able to continue with its established sports betting programs. Those states are Oregon, Delaware, Montana and Nevada.
Since 2011, New Jersey, with the support of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, has been looking to have the state’s prohibition reversed, to provide a shot in the arm for the horseracing industry and Atlantic City casinos, both on the economic ropes. “It’s one of the few things Chris Christie and I agree on, other than low beach chairs,” Coffey, a Democrat, joked this week. The federal district and appeals courts, however, have consistently ruled against New Jersey.
Looking to block the state’s efforts have been the National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB). “They’re trying to argue it taints the purity of the game,” Coffey said of the leagues’ arguments. There is a fear that with a more pervasive and legally permitted form of sports gambling, it would corrupt the sports world, possibly leading to game fixing—which has happened in years past. There were scandals involving college basketball in the 1950s and the “Black Sox” World Series in 1919.
These are specious arguments in this day and age, Coffey countered, primarily because of the amount many professional athletes earn. “You couldn’t make it worth their while to throw a game,” he said.
Drazin called the leagues’ position “hypocritical,” given some of the leagues are involved in fantasy sports enterprises involving gambling.
Phone messages and emails to media representatives for the four leagues were not returned by press time on Wednesday afternoon.
The court’s announcement was met with political bipartisan support from state and federal lawmakers.
State Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos, a Republican whose 13th Legislative District includes Oceanport, said in a released statement: “Legalizing sports betting will spur economic growth and bolster our long beleaguered equine industry. These decisions should be made at the state level. That’s why this is an important case not only for New Jersey, bur for every state in the nation…I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor.”
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat representing the 6th Congressional District, of which Oceanport is part, voiced his endorsement. “Rather than continuing to allow criminal and offshore entities to reap the benefits of illegal gaming,” Pallone said in a released statement, “there is now an opportunity for the Supreme Court to allow the democratic process in New Jersey to appropriately regulate sports gaming.”
State Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling, (D-11), has in the past expressed support for Monmouth Park as a county-wide economic engine. “We really need to find more and more reasons for people to go there,” to the racetrack, for it to continue to be a viable operation, he said. Sports and alternative gaming can do that, as well as the other events the track sponsors, he noted. “We’re going to do all that we can to try to help the racing industry.”
Drazin, Coffey and others often point out that surrounding states have slot machines and other forms of gaming to attract customers to their racetracks; and New Jersey loses out to that competition, they argue.
With arguments planned before the Supreme Court, “This is the next step in the process,” in winning a wider array of alternative gaming options, Drazin said.
New Jersey voters last November rejected a ballot referendum that would have allowed for two additional casinos outside of Atlantic City, in North Jersey, purposely bypassing Ocean and Monmouth Counties. That measure was defeated, not because the public is against more casinos, Coffey maintained, but because “it was bad legislation” that would hurt those two counties.
Monmouth Park dates back to 1870 and has been operating in its current location since 1946. It remains Oceanport’s largest employer and taxpayer.
This article was first published in the July 6-13, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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