When I opened the Sunday edition of the Clarksburg (W. Va.) Exponent-Telegram (yes, some of us Internet hacks still read the newspaper), I came across a column from Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press regarding New Jersey’s new intention to permit wagering on sports, including the NFL. Dahlberg’s item, which presumably appeared in every Sunday paper that subscribes to the AP, contends that the time has come to acknowledge that gambling on the NFL happens, and that it may as well happen legally.
But Dahlberg overlooks one fairly important reality. Even if Governor Chris Christie thinks a 1992 federal law can be defeated in court, New Jersey belongs to the Third Judicial Circuit. And Delaware belongs to the Third Judicial Circuit. And Delaware tried to embark on single-game sports wagering in 2009. And the NFL and other sports leagues sued Delaware. And a federal judge in Delaware agreed with the NFL and other sports leagues.
And the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the decision.
The fact that Delaware and New Jersey are in the same judicial circuit means that this case most likely is over before it even begins. The issue is settled; the federal law prohibiting sports gambling beyond any programs that states had in place between 1976 and 1990 has been upheld by the same appeals court to which any case against New Jersey would eventually go. (An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court could change the outcome, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the Delaware case.)
So while Dahlberg may be right in theory, in practice he wasted his words writing about the subject. This one is going nowhere, and it’s only a matter of time before the NFL releases the houndstooth jackets to slam the door in Christie’s face.
The deeper question remains why does the NFL care about gambling on pro football games? We continue to believe that, if sports gambling becomes legalized and thus legitimized, there will be more and more pressure on the NFL to ensure that every call made in every game is accurate, forcing the league to employ officials on a full-time basis, expand the use of instant replay, and fend off periodic charges that the outcomes are fixed as millions of legally wagered dollars change hands (or don’t) based on a garbage-time touchdown that maybe shouldn’t have been ruled a touchdown.
Though the NFL currently may be involved in some court cases that it could lose, chances are that the forthcoming case of the National Football League et al. v. New Jersey will result in a victory for the NFL.