Stalemate Continues As NJ Horsemen Battle For $150 Million From Sports Leagues

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New Jersey’s thoroughbred horsemen and their opponents in a $150 mm lawsuit — including the NCAA and NFL — have been unable even to get on the same page for a conference call with the federal magistrate judge handling the case.

The two sides, which have been bickering over what, if anything, the sports organizations have conceded about supposed false testimony in depositions dating back to 2012, were supposed to participate in a conference call with Judge Lois Goodman on Thursday.

But attorney Ron Riccio, representing the horsemen, informed the court that he would be “on a flight at that time.” The call has now been rescheduled for Tuesday.

The delay will give both sides a little more time to cool off.

In a letter to the court on Jan. 15, Riccio charged that high-ranking executives of the sports leagues were deliberately inaccurate in their claims eight years ago citing “irreparable harm” that would be done to the leagues if legal, regulated sports betting was adopted by states outside of Nevada.

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“One would expect that a person accused of filing a false sworn statement with the court would explicitly deny, in a subsequent sworn statement, the falsity of the statement and explain why the allegedly false statement is not false,” Riccio wrote. “But that has never happened here. All the Leagues have ever done to support their claim that they deny ‘the accusation that its executives and in-house counsel lied under oath regarding the potential injury to the Sports Organizations from the expansion of legalized sports gambling’ is rely on an unsworn excerpt from their opposition brief [to a subsequent bond motion].

“The excerpt from the Leagues’ Brief [of Jan. 13] does not deny the falsity of the sworn statements. The excerpt states only that the Leagues’ false statements are not ‘outright factual falsehoods’ but only ‘expressions of the concern about the risks to which the Leagues would be increasingly exposed if state-sponsored sports gambling were spread in violation of PASPA.’

A ‘non-denial’ denial?

“This is not a denial that the sworn statements are false,” Riccio continued. “It is a ‘spin’ offered by the Leagues to explain away why they promoted and profited from the spread of sports gambling while swearing to courts that the very activity on which they were making millions would, unless enjoined, cause them to suffer immediate irreparable injury.

“It is respectfully submitted that the Leagues, their top executives, and in-house counsel should be held accountable under oath at depositions and at an evidentiary hearing for their sworn words and conduct. This is something the Leagues desperately want to avoid. Those who filed sworn statements do not want to be held responsible by answering questions under oath about what they swore was true when it was not true.”

An attorney for the sports organizations responded the next day, clearly preferring to try to settle this directly with the judge in that conference call.

“Although we do not believe it appropriate or warranted to provide the Court with a point-by-point response to that letter at this time,” the attorney said, “we do not want any silence to be construed by [the horsemen]  as a concession that any of their arguments has merit. We therefore express our disagreement with [the horsemen’s]  various positions — including for the reasons previously stated in our letter of January 14 — and we look forward to addressing them with the Court at an appropriate time.”

In that letter, the sports leagues asserted: “Contrary to [the horsemen’s]  suggestion, the Sports Organizations have absolutely disputed the accusation that its executives and in-house counsel lied under oath regarding the potential injury to the Sports Organizations from the expansion of legalized sports gambling.”

The continuing acrimony stems from that 2012 lawsuit by the leagues that ultimately ended with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 that erased a longstanding federal law severely limiting legal sports betting. It comes amid settlement talks among the parties.

While the organizations running college sports, pro football, baseball, basketball, and hockey have very deep pockets, the New Jersey horsemen have spent the past decade scrambling to stay afloat.

A $20 mm annual subsidy for the industry approved by the Legislature last year and the cash infusion from sports betting have boosted the state’s horsemen, but a compromise offer from the leagues presumably would have to be seriously considered.

Photo by Leo Fernandes / 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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