Court filing in New Jersey sports betting case looks at leagues' involvement in fantasy sports

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NEWARK, New Jersey — A court filing Wednesday in New Jersey's effort to allow sports betting takes the four major pro sports leagues to task for their involvement in fantasy sports competitions, claiming that that precludes them from dictating what the state can do.

The filing was made by the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear arguments in the case later this year.

The horsemen's group wants to offer sports gambling at Monmouth Park Racetrack. But the effort has lost in court several times, most recently in November when a federal judge ruled New Jersey's revamped sports gambling law violated a 1992 federal law.

Wednesday's filing argues that the legal concept of "unclean hands" applies because the leagues are involved in fantasy sports in which contestants bet on the performances of individual players.

"The Leagues sponsor, promote, invest in, profit from, and own sports betting business enterprises that engage in the very kinds of sports betting activities the Leagues claim irreparably harm them and, thus, entitle them to an injunction," the brief claims. "Because of their unclean hands, rooted in their hypocrisy, the District Court should not have entertained the Leagues' request for an injunction. Instead, the courthouse doors should have been closed to the Leagues."

In previous court filings, the leagues have drawn a sharp distinction between fantasy leagues, in which contestants select players from different teams and wager on how they will perform, and the kind of sports betting sought by New Jersey in which gamblers bet on the outcomes of games.

The leagues argue that expanding sports betting to New Jersey will damage the integrity of the games and increase the temptation for game-fixing. Currently, only Nevada allows betting on individual games; Delaware offers parlay betting pools in which players must select several teams correctly in order to win money.

The horsemen's association also noted in its brief that a previous 3rd Circuit ruling in the case acknowledged that New Jersey had the right to repeal its existing laws against sports gambling.

New Jersey has been pushing hard to allow sports betting at horse tracks and casinos in an attempt to revive those two struggling industries. After defeats in court and a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill last fall that, instead of legalizing sports betting as an earlier bill had done, lifted the state's ban as it pertains to casinos and racetracks.

The NCAA, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and Major League Baseball — which sued the state in 2012 — contend that allowing sports gambling at racetracks and casinos, which are heavily regulated by the state, would amount to state-sponsored betting and would violate the 1992 federal law.

An attorney representing the leagues in the lawsuit didn't return an email seeking comment Wednesday.

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