Delaware Responds to Suit Over Sports Betting

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By Sean O'Sullivan, The News Journal

WILMINGTON - While attention last week focused on legal moves at the appeals court level, the state of Delaware quietly filed its formal, legal response to a civil lawsuit that alleges the state's sports betting plan is illegal.

In its 11-page answer to the lawsuit filed July 24 by the four national professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, attorneys for the state deny all allegations that the planned "sports lottery" at Delaware racinos is illegal under federal or state law . They also spell out that the three affirmative defenses against the civil claims.

The first defense is that the sports leagues have failed to state a proper claim, second that the sports leagues waited too long to file their lawsuit and third that the leagues are barred from obtaining relief because they have "unclean hands."

The court filing by the state offers no other details on those positions, but the "unclean hands" defense meshes with allegations made by attorneys for Delaware in appeals court documents last week that the professional sports leagues "are profiting from sports gambling."

Attorney Kenneth Nachbar, who is representing the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the NCAA, could not be reached for comment today.

However, he said last week his clients had "no idea what the state is talking about" when asked about the leagues allegedly profiting from sports gambling.

Delaware attorneys already have pointed out that the owners of several professional sports teams have a stake in casinos or vice-versa and several pro baseball teams have sponsorship deals with casinos.

As for the issue of time, attorneys for Delaware repeatedly have pointed out that the sports leagues waited 10 weeks after the reauthorization of the "sports lottery" to file suit.

The state also has argued that Delaware has been "grandfathered" since 1992 by the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the law that bars sports betting in most other states.

The lawsuit against Delaware is now moving on two fronts. The first is at the district court level in Wilmington where the lawsuit is on a fast track with summary judgment briefs due by Oct. 26 and a trial set for Dec. 7.

The second is at the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which also has set the matter on an "expedited" schedule, where the sports leagues are attempting to get a panel of appeals court judges to do what the district court would not -- bar Delaware from starting sports betting while the lawsuit is moving through the courts.

Briefing on that issue is due this week and the panel has set a hearing for Aug. 24 in Philadelphia.

State officials and racino operators hope to launch sports wagering Sept. 1.

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