By Steve Lichtenstein
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I grew up to believe that we had our best and brightest minds serving on the Supreme Court of the United States.

These days, there are times when I think we could do no worse with village idiots.  For instance, how is it free speech when people and entities attempt to bribe politicians?

Monday was another one of those times, as the court let stand, without comment, the 1992 federal government’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act’s ban on sports betting in New Jersey.

Talk about amateur hour. We don’t even know what the court was thinking.

It’s as if the members were professional wrestling referees.  They ignored all the evidence.

The people of New Jersey, in a 2011 referendum, overwhelmingly voted to amend the state constitution to allow its citizens to bet on sports.  It’s legal in four other states, with Nevada being the most prominent.

I’ve heard of differing laws by state, but those are the rules the citizens of each of those states deemed appropriate.  How can the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT dictate that an activity be legal in one place and illegal in another?

I may be a rudimentary legal scholar, but I can think of several violations of constitutional principles this creates off the top of my head. How about states’ rights, equal protection or the limits of the commerce clause?

This should have been a slam dunk for New Jersey.

Ah, but there are no better rim protectors than the money machines that run our professional and collegiate sports cartels.

After all, they claim, legal gambling would open up their pristine games to the seedy side of town, where gamblers would prey on naive athletes to fix outcomes.

The United States District Court in New Jersey and the Third United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia both bought it, or — in the case of two of three judges on the Appeals Court — were unwilling to tackle the issue and deferred to the federal government’s judgment.

Wait, all laws that the federal government enacts must be inherently constitutional when they conflict with a state law?  Anyone who’s studied our history as it relates to civil rights will surely disagree.

OK, so if we go ahead and assume that gambling is so terrible, how about making it illegal to, say, play fantasy football?  Or run pools for NCAA college basketball brackets?

As if the vast majority of folks who entertain themselves with such activities do so “for the fun of it.”

Maybe if they’re 12.  These things are big business, which in turn creates bigger business opportunities for professional and college sports associations.  Does anyone believe that the explosion of gambling games has had no impact on the overflow of television revenue towards sports content in the last 30 years?

So it seems that the professional leagues and the NCAA have learned to live and love certain forms of gambling.  Just not when it’s a straight bet on how much a team wins or loses by.

That argument is also counterintuitive, as it’s less likely that a fixer would go to a licensed dealer in New Jersey — where his bets are documented — than to one of the thousands of illegal bookmakers that exist on the street today.

My local newspaper in Central Jersey prints the point spreads of every major sporting event — college and pro — daily.  Do they do so solely for those readers who are planning to visit Las Vegas that day?  Maybe making gambling legal in New Jersey will end some of the careers of those less-savory folks.

New Jersey, in somewhat-rare bipartisan fashion, has pledged to move ahead with legalized sports gambling anyway.  State Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, has vowed to send a bill to Republican Governor Chris Christie that would dare the U.S. government to try to stop it from happening.

They’re betting that the U.S. Justice Department will look the other way, similar to its stance on legalized marijuana in Colorado and Washington.

The problem is that the anti-pot movement doesn’t have the deep pockets and influence of those running professional and collegiate sports leagues.  That’s how these guys have been able to maintain their monopolies all these years.  They won’t be afraid to apply pressure where needed to keep the status quo.

In other words, the fix is in.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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