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Leagues poised to challenge N.J. over sports betting

| Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, 8:27 p.m.

NEWARK, N.J. — Four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA are poised to move forward with their legal fight over New Jersey's plans to allow sports gambling.

That comes after a judge on Friday rejected arguments that the leagues couldn't prove they would be harmed if the state moves ahead with its plans to allow sports gambling.

In denying the state's request to dismiss the lawsuit by the NBA, NHL, NFL, Major League Baseball and the NCAA, U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp agreed that they have standing to file the suit because expanding legal sports betting to New Jersey would negatively affect perception of their games.

In his ruling, Shipp cited studies offered by the leagues that showed fans' negative attitudes toward game-fixing and sports gambling.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy declined to comment on the ruling, telling The Associated Press on Saturday that “the decision speaks for itself.”

Stacey Osburn, director of public and media relations for the NCAA, said the association was “pleased with the court's ruling. The NCAA has long maintained that sports wagering threatens the well-being of student-athletes and the integrity of college sports.”

Phone messages left Saturday for officials with the NBA and NHL were not immediately returned. A voicemail for a MLB spokesman was full and would not accept messages.

New Jersey also has argued in court papers that a 1990s law prohibiting sports gambling in all but four states is unconstitutional, and Shipp ordered that a date for oral argument on that issue will be set after Jan. 20.

The federal law prohibited sports gambling in all states but Nevada, where bettors can gamble on single games, and three other states that were allowed to offer multi-game parlay betting. New Jersey has argued the law usurps the authority of state legislatures and discriminates by “grandfathering” in some states.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., who has worked in the House to change the federal law, decried Shipp's decision.

“It is absurd for the professional sports leagues and the NCAA to claim that they will suffer injuries as a result of the legalization of sports betting in New Jersey,” Pallone said Saturday.

“That these organizations claim that the sports they represent will somehow have their reputation impacted is naïve at best and assumes that illegal gambling is not currently occurring in lieu of legal sports betting,” he added. “The fact is that the presence of illegal betting and the crime that goes with it has a far greater impact on the legitimacy of sports organization.”

The leagues filed suit in August after Gov. Chris Christie vowed to defy a federal ban on sports wagering. The Republican governor signed a sports betting law in January, limiting bets to the Atlantic City casinos and the state's horse racing tracks.

New Jersey has said it plans to license sports betting as soon as January, and in October it published regulations governing licenses. But the state agreed to give the leagues 30 days' notice before it grants any licenses and hasn't done so yet, the state attorney general's office said last week.

The state, represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, had argued before Shipp last Tuesday that the leagues are as popular as they've ever been despite the existence of legal gambling in Nevada and more widespread illegal gambling.

The NCAA has said it will relocate several championship events scheduled to be held in New Jersey next year because of the state's sports gambling push.

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