What’s a little lawsuit between best buds?
There’s plenty to poke fun at while watching the bromance between Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his good luck charm, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, play out on national television and all those subsequent Vines. The sweater. The unreciprocated hug. The fact that Christie, a lifelong Cowboys fan, runs a state stocked with fans of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who all hate America’s team.
But there’s something else that’s funny about the Jones-Christie pairing, something that most fans are probably missing. Jones, an NFL owner, is whooping it up with a man who the league is actually suing.
Well, maybe funny is the wrong word. “It’s definitely weird,” says Ryan Rodenberg, a sports law professor at Florida State University who has closely followed Christie’s attempts to legalize sports betting in New Jersey, despite the legal complaints of the NFL and other major sports leagues. In October, the NFL — along with the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, and the NCAA, sued Christie and two other New Jersey officials, arguing that the state’s plan to move forward with sports gambling violated a 1992 federal law that bans it in every state except for Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. A federal judge agreed, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is now taking up the case.
Christie and betting proponents argue that sports books could increase revenues and create jobs, particularly in struggling Atlantic City. The league argued that legalized betting can cause “irreparable harm,” i.e. participants have more incentives to fix games, even though such opportunities have already long existed in the underground betting market. (NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already called for the legalization of sports betting, through a federal law change. He says he still opposes New Jersey’s attempt to circumvent the current statute).
Is all this palling around between Jones and Christie appropriate, given the legal fight? “Maybe it’s just the way business is done at that echelon, people don’t take things personally,” says Rodenberg. “It’s not something I can relate to.” A New Jersey taxpayer can look at it this way: my governor is high-fiving a major shareholder of an entity that’s trying to squash legislation that will benefit my state economically. The NFL can look at this way: one of our most high-profile owners is celebrating with a man who’s trying to bring us irreparable harm.
But Jones himself isn’t suing Christie. The NFL league office in New York, along with the other leagues, brought the suit forward: the NFL did not put the proposed litigation to an owner’s vote. (A Cowboys spokesman did not return a request for comment. A Christie spokesman declined to comment.) And even Raymond Lesniak, a Democratic state senator in New Jersey and self-described Christie critic, excuses the governor’s behavior, chalking it up to sports fandom. Lesniak, who’s been trying to get sports betting legislation passed for six years, is more bothered by Christie accepting a free ticket to Dallas from Jones after the Port Authority, which is controlled by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and whose ethics have been questioned in Bridgegate — awarded a contract to operate the One World Trade Center observatory to a company partly owned by the Cowboys. He’s peeved that the NFL is fighting sports betting in New Jersey, even though it staged three games this season in London, where betting parlors dot the streets like Starbucks.
Lesniak, however, goes to New York Giants games and supports the team, even though he doesn’t support the league’s policies. So he won’t bash the governor for living a fan’s fantasy. “I’ll give him a pass,” Lesniak says. “And I don’t give him a pass often.”
Jones wants Christie in Green Bay on Sunday, for Dallas’ next playoff game: the Cowboys are 5-0 in games Christie has attended this season. “He’s part of our mojo,” Jones said. As of Tuesday evening, Christie still had not decided whether he’d make the trip. Safe bet: if Christie has any ambitions of taking Texas in 2016, he’ll be living it up in Lambeau.