WASHINGTON – A pair of veteran Republican senators urged Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the legality of a new Delaware law allowing sports betting and to defend a federal anti-sports betting law that New Jersey politicians are challenging.
Both efforts “threaten to greatly expand sports gambling and undermine the integrity of our” national pastimes, wrote Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jon Kyl of Arizona in a letter dated Monday, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
At issue in both cases is the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports gambling but grandfathered four states: Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Oregon.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who proposed sports betting to help solve a shortfall, signed legislation authorizing it this year. State officials hope to have the sports lottery in place for this year’s NFL regular season in September.
Hatch and Kyl, both longtime gambling opponents, say that although Delaware is grandfathered from the ’92 law, its plan to allow single-game betting would violate the legislation because such betting was never available in any state. Delaware Lottery Director Wayne Lemons confirmed Tuesday that the state’s brief 1970s sports lottery did not offer such bets.
The senators wrote that the 1992 law authorizes the Justice Department to intervene to prevent a state from expanding sports betting beyond what was offered before the law took effect.
“It is our hope that the Department of Justice will monitor closely the situation in Delaware to ensure the state’s compliance with federal law,” they wrote.
The NFL opposes the sports lottery, and Markell spokesman Joe Rogalsky said in an e-mail, “Along with their litigation threats, we suspect this letter is part of the NFL’s continued effort to stop Delaware from moving forward with its sports lottery. Delaware is committed to operating the sports lottery in compliance with federal law and the Delaware Constitution, which is why the governor asked for and received a Delaware Supreme Court advisory opinion allowing us to move forward.”
The NFL, Hatch and Kyl had no immediate comment.
Meanwhile, in neighboring New Jersey, politicians fear that Delaware’s sports betting threatens the Garden State’s casino and horse racing industries. In March, New Jersey Democratic State Sen. Ray Lesniak, along with an online gambling association and others, filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department challenging the 1992 law.
This month, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine formally joined the lawsuit, filing a motion in the case arguing that the ban puts New Jersey at an economic disadvantage because it is denied a revenue stream allowed to the four grandfathered states. Corzine has called the law “fundamentally unfair.”
Hatch and Kyl urge Holder “to vigorously defend the statute.”
Neither the Justice Department nor Corzine’s office responded to telephone and e-mail messages left Tuesday.
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