NEW ORLEANS — Chris Christie was the guest of honor at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) winter meeting here last weekend.
It’s not a stretch to say the former governor of New Jersey is one of the primary reasons more than 250 people gathered to talk about sports betting. It was under his tenure that the state challenged — and later toppled — the federal sports betting ban known as PASPA.
In his keynote address Friday to policymakers, Christie delivered a stern rejection of both league and federal involvement in sports betting.
On the NJ sports betting case
The speech began with the timeline of that NJ sports betting case which initially bore his name, Christie v. NCAA. His narration featured another key figure in the fight, attorney Ted Olson (left in the above photo.)
As Christie tells it, he and Olson made a pact during their very first meeting. And neither of them really knew what they were getting into.
“We shook hands, and the promise we made to each other that day was that both of us would stick it out until the end with each other. We didn’t really know that ‘the end’ was going to include losing seven times in court before we actually wound up winning.”
The five largest US sports leagues filed injunctions against two separate NJ sports betting laws during that years-long court battle. And the state lost each of the first seven decisions.
“The greatest appellate advocate of our generation was now 0-7 for me,” Christie laughed. “And believe me, Ted doesn’t come cheap. So for 0-7, I felt like — and no offense, Senator [Coley] — the old Cleveland Browns.”
As a final attempt, Olson convinced Christie to petition the US Supreme Court one last time. The justices agreed to hear the case in 2017, and the rest is sports betting history.
According to Christie, the sports organizations have themselves to blame for the end result: “I believe [the hearing] was granted due to the underlying duplicity of the sports leagues.”
On league involvement
The former governor did not mince words in discussing the leagues’ effort to collect an integrity fee.
“The leagues — the arrogance of the leagues — is the other thing we need to talk about. All of you now are going to have these folks coming in to your state capitals and arguing to you that they should somehow now get something for free from you, that they were unwilling to settle on when they were in the midst of litigation.”
Christie says he was willing to compromise “any number of times along the way,” possibly including some type of fee for the leagues. But they showed no interest in compromise at the time.
“They laughed at me,” he said. “Every one of them laughed at me.” A moment later, he added: “They’re not laughing anymore.”
As he spoke, Christie occasionally glanced at the table to his far left. While most of the room was filled with lawmakers and regulators, that table included NBA Counsel Dan Spillane and others within the league lobbying alliance.
“They don’t have to be our enemy, and they shouldn’t be,” Christie continued. “But we don’t need to turn over these monies to those leagues. They don’t need it, and given their conduct over the last seven years, I’d argue to you they don’t deserve it.
“And if you do it, you’re rewarding bad behavior.”
On federal involvement
For as passionate as he was in rejecting league involvement, the Republican speaker was even more heated about Congress potentially meddling in sports betting.
“We need to stand up and fight strongly against federal regulation on this,” he said. “We fought for seven years to get the right to do this ourselves. Let’s not give it away.”
As Christie and the courts agree, this is a states’ rights issue at its core. And case studies from jurisdictions like Nevada and New Jersey show that they’re well-equipped to regulate it.
“Where is the scandal that was borne out of Nevada sports gaming in any one of the leagues?” he asked. “Where did Nevada sports gaming ever seem like it was incapable of being regulated by the state regulators in Nevada? When I ask people in the federal government this, they can’t come up with one reason.”
Chris Christie in closing
Rallying the troops once again, Christie offered some strong admonition for state lawmakers:
“Talk to your members of Congress. Talk to your United States senators and tell them, ‘You’ve got plenty to do down there. You can’t even keep the government open. How about, like, once you open the government again you can think about getting into some new stuff?’
‘You balance the budget, provide for the national defense and get the hell out of sports gambling. You’ve got enough to do.’”