NJ Horsemen Seek Holy Grail In Sports Betting Suit: Commissioner Depositions

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New Jersey’s thoroughbred horsemen made a recent filing to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals regarding their effort to collect at least $150 million from the NFL, NCAA, and three other sports organizations for what they say was “bad faith” on their part.

We now can see that a big part of the horsemen’s plan involves gaining access to everything the league commissioners had to say during past depositions.

The issue dates back to 2014, when the organizations sought and obtained an injunction that prevented Monmouth Park from offering sports betting in spite of a state law that permitted it.

The federal law that superseded the issue at the time — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 — was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in May.

A bond of $3.4 million was posted by the leagues four years ago, but the horsemen have sought both that and further damages from the long wait until sports betting began at Monmouth Park a little less than six months ago.

The latest appeal comes after yet another ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Shipp — brother of former Arizona Cardinals running back Marcel Shipp — that sided with the sports organizations. Shipp’s rationale in his past sports betting verdicts ultimately was rejected by higher authorities.

The horsemen not only lost in front of Shipp a couple of weeks ago; they weren’t even granted a hearing.

What might horsemen “discover” in depositions?

Part of the appeal notes that back in May the horsemen had sought “an order for accelerated discovery.” The horsemen asserted that they “should be permitted to see all of the documents produced by the leagues as well as the complete unredacted transcripts of the depositions” by league commissioners and other high-ranking executives back in 2014.

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In 2012 — the year the case began — the leagues declared their “accordance” with the Court’s direction that “no documents will be sealed in this case due to the case being of public import.”

But there were plenty of blacked-out portions of those depositions, perhaps because of discussion of studies showing no harm, or even financial benefit, to the leagues from widespread sports betting legalization.

What wasn’t redacted was the scorn by the executives.

Then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig: “Federal government needs money, going over a cliff, cities need money. [Then-New Jersey Governor] Chris Christie needs money. But gambling is so … the threat of gambling and to create more threat is to me — I’m stunned. I know that people need sources of revenue, but you can’t — this is corruption in my opinion. Gambling on a sport … it’s evil, it creates doubt, and destroys your sport.”

Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern: “The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two, and they don’t care that it’s at our potential loss.”

Asked if the NHL had contingency plans in case New Jersey prevailed, Commissioner Gary Bettman said: “Not to sound flip on this point, but it’s inconceivable to me how we could lose this lawsuit, so we haven’t been doing that.”

Bettman had a change of heart recently on sports betting. So did Stern.

Release of the unredacted transcripts might hamper the leagues’ credibility, although that already has taken a hit given their eager embraces of daily fantasy sports and now especially sports betting.

Horsemen face hurdle

The problem for the horsemen is that Shipp noted that the bond was posted with respect to “Christie II” — a second version of a sports betting law that partially repealed the state’s prohibitions while paving the way for the state’s casinos and racetracks to offer their own sportsbooks without oversight from state government.

That twist was specifically rejected by the Supreme Court, which instead upheld the original sports betting bill because it found that PASPA unconstitutionally “commandeered” states into doing Congress’ bidding on banning sports betting.

That leaves it unclear if the horsemen can make any headway with the Third Circuit — where it lost a pair of 2-1 rulings in the sports betting saga — on gaining access to those unredacted depositions.

Photo by Esteban de Armas / Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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