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The odds of legalized sports betting: New Jersey vs. the leagues

Then-Gov. Chris Christie drew New Jersey into a battle it now looks likely to win. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The New England Patriots kicked off 2017 with the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, rallying from a 28-3 deficit to stun the Atlanta Falcons in overtime.

A year later, the state of New Jersey made a similar monumental recovery.

For more than five years, New Jersey had been a significant underdog to the NCAA, NFL and other major professional sports leagues that sued then-Gov. Chris Christie to stop him from allowing legal sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and the state's racetracks. That changed in June 2017, when the United States Supreme Court accepted a Hail Mary appeal from New Jersey.

It changed again on Monday, May 14 when SCOTUS struck down a 25-plus-year-old federal statute, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). For entertainment purposes only, ESPN Chalk took a look back at how New Jersey's odds stood during this lengthy battle. At one point, it was almost as if the Garden State was down 28-3 late in the third quarter.


The fight begins

  • Aug. 7, 2012: The NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball sue New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over legislation that would legalize sports betting at the state's casinos and racetracks. The leagues say the law is a "clear violation" of the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting and threatens the integrity of the sports. The five sports leagues had reason to be confident: only three years earlier the quintet prevailed in a related lawsuit against Delaware, winning the case 3-0 before the same appellate court with jurisdiction in the New Jersey case.

Opening odds: New Jersey +800


Leagues, federal government stack the box

  • Dec. 21, 2012: New Jersey has been aggressive, demanding and being granted the right to depose NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NCAA president Mark Emmert and other high-ranking sports league officials. The state calls for the leagues' suit to be dismissed on standing, questioning how the plaintiffs could possibly claim irreparable harm when they support fantasy sports and play games in other jurisdictions with legal sports betting. None of it mattered to U .S. District Court Judge Michael A. Shipp, who issued the first of several decisions in favor of the five sports leagues. In evaluating New Jersey's attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed and evaluating the evidence submitted by the five leagues, Judge Shipp found "an undisputed direct link between legalized gambling and harm to the Leagues."

  • Jan. 23, 2013: The U.S. Department of Justice formally enters the case too, standing side-by-side with the sports leagues in defense of PASPA and its federal sports betting ban against New Jersey. The state's underdog status grows.

Updated odds: New Jersey +900


Amid setback, Christie tries to quit

  • Feb. 28, 2013: Judge Shipp again rules in favor of the leagues, granting an injunction and shutting down New Jersey's efforts, for now. The state appeals the district court's ruling and heads to federal court in Philadelphia.

  • Sept. 17, 2013: In a split decision, two out of three judges rule against New Jersey. It's strike two for the state. According to the court, "New Jersey's sports wagering law conflicts with PASPA and, under our Constitution, must yield." The court's opinion, however, included a sentence that would result in more years of litigation: "We do not read PASPA to prohibit New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports wagering," the court wrote. New Jersey appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • June 23, 2014: The Supreme Court denies New Jersey's appeal. The Garden State's hopes are seemingly crushed. Christie says he's ready to put the case behind him. "It's always a long shot to get certiorari from the United State Supreme Court," Christie lamented to reporters after the decision. "That's the way it goes. They said no, so we have to move on." New Jersey State Sen. Ray Lesniak disagrees and immediately gets to work on new sports betting legislation, based on the Third Circuit's sentence and a line in a brief from the U.S. Dept. of Justice that agreed, saying the state was free to repeal its sports betting prohibitions "in whole or in part." Christie vetoes the new legislation, calling it a "novel attempt to circumvent the ruling."

Updated odds: New Jersey +1,100


Christie does a 180 ... and so does the NBA

  • Sept. 8, 2014: Christie flip-flops in dramatic fashion, issuing a law enforcement directive for authorities to stand down on sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and racetracks. Five weeks later, on Oct. 17, 2014, Christie signs Lesniak's legislation. Monmouth Park racetrack says it plans to begin taking bets by November.

  • Oct. 20, 2014: The day before Game 1 of the World Series, between the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals, the sports leagues sue New Jersey again, kicking off what becomes known as Christie II. Judge Shipp again rules in favor of the leagues in November, and New Jersey again appeals to the Third Circuit.

  • Nov. 13, 2014: First-year NBA commissioner Adam Silver writes an op-ed in The New York Times, calling on Congress to create a federal framework that would allow states to legalize and regulate sports betting. Just days before, the NBA announced it had taken an equity position in daily fantasy operator FanDuel. MLB, NHL, several NFL teams and even some NCAA conferences partner or accept advertising with daily fantasy sports companies. For the first time, there appears to be division in the ranks among the sports leagues on the legalization of sports betting.

Updated odds: New Jersey +1,000


A small victory changes the game

  • March 17, 2015: The same Third Circuit court hears New Jersey's appeal again. Five months later, the court rules in favor of the five sports leagues for a second time, finding that "PASPA, by its terms, prohibits states from authorizing by law sports gambling, and the 2014 [New Jersey] Law does exactly that."

  • Aug. 25, 2015: The appeals court's 2-1 decision in favor of the sports leagues includes a twist: The judge who wrote the 2013 decision against New Jersey in 'Christie I' now dissents in 'Christie II' and rules in favor of Gov. Christie's side. This peculiarity prompts New Jersey to seek review of the decision by an entire panel of Third Circuit judges, a procedure known as en banc review. New Jersey's request is granted. While a minor procedural victory, the ruling to re-review the case represents the first time Christie has won anything in the courtroom. As a result, the moneyline prices further narrow, although the sports leagues retain their favorite status.

Updated odds: New Jersey +500


SCOTUS gets involved, clouds begin to part

  • Feb. 17, 2016: An en banc group of twelve Third Circuit judges hear New Jersey's renewed appeal. Six months later, by a 9-3 vote in a fractured decision featuring two separate dissents, the full panel of Third Circuit judges affirm their earlier ruling: "The 2014 Law violates PASPA because it authorizes by law sports gambling. We continue to find PASPA constitutional."

  • Oct. 7, 2016: New Jersey files its appeal with the Supreme Court.

  • Jan. 17, 2017: The Supreme Court asks the Department of Justice's Office of Solicitor General -- the president's lawyers who handle Supreme Court cases -- to weigh in on the case. The move by the Supreme Court to ask for the DOJ's input suggests that some or all of the nine justices are interested in the sports gambling case. Significant line movement -- the five leagues are a much weaker favorite now.

  • May 23, 2017: Acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall files a brief, advising the court not to take the case.

  • June 27, 2017: New Jersey's Hail Mary is answered. The Supreme Court announces that it has agreed to hear Gov. Christie's appeal. With only a fraction of cases ever making it to the high court -- just over 1 percent in any given year -- and the Supreme Court historically overruling far more cases than it affirms, for the first time, New Jersey is the favorite.

Updated odds: New Jersey -150


The momentum shifts ... for good?

  • Sept. 5, 2017: Eighteen states and three governors file a joint legal brief supporting New Jersey in the case, a massive increase in number from just a year earlier.

  • Dec. 4, 2017: The Supreme Court holds oral arguments. Most legal observers who attend the hourlong hearing in Washington conclude that it went well for New Jersey's side. A month later, it is revealed that the NBA and Major League Baseball are teaming up to lobby in states for bills that would legalize sports betting, a contingency plan. New Jersey's odds increase, with the state currently sitting as a considerable favorite to prevail.

Closing odds: New Jersey -250


Late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Falcons lead 28-3. William Hill's Nevada sportsbooks have the Patriots as +1,100 underdogs to come from behind and win -- the same odds as New Jersey had of beating the sports leagues in court in the summer of 2014.

Now that New Jersey has followed the Patriots' lead and prevailed, there will likely be plenty of legal sports betting options throughout the state by the start of football season. Other states may be able to push through legislation quickly too.

When the litigation started. In 2012 -- when the NCAA, NBA, NHL, NFL, and Major League Baseball first sued New Jersey -- there were no states actively considering sports betting legislation and Congress was quiet on the issue.

As of this month, there are close to two dozen states considering bills that would legalize sports betting. And on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has called for hearings on sports betting, with congressman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., having already formally introduced legislation.