On August 26, 2016, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided the case State v. Amboy National Bank, under Docket No. a-0703-14. The principle issue of the decision concerned and whether operation of a sports pool amounts to the promotion of gambling under N.J.S.A. 2C:37-2, such that the money in the pool is subject to forfeiture under 2C:64-1.
The case arose in Monmouth County. It involved an appeal from a civil forfeiture action. John R. Bovery, Jr. organized sports pools for approximately twenty years before he came under scrutiny by investigators. In September 2010, the State obtained an order to restrain and seize the contents of three bank accounts at Amboy National Bank and a search warrant for Bovery’s residence. Approximately $846,000 was seized following execution of the order, search warrant and Bovery’s arrest. In challenging the forfeiture action, Bovery admitted operating the sports pools and that $722,000 of the money seized represented “entry fees” he received from players but denied the pools were illegal.
In affirming the forfeiture, the Court held that N.J.S.A. 2C:37-1(b) defines gambling as “staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the actor’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.” The definition of a “contest of chance” includes “any game or pool in which the outcome depends in a material degree upon an element of chance, notwithstanding that skill of the contestants or some other persons may also be a factor therein.” N.J.S.A. 2C:37-1(a).
Bovery’s own statements regarding how the pools operated establish that the pools fall within the statutory definition of gambling. Players risked money, “something of value,” on the outcome of various sports games which qualify as “future contingent events not under the actor’s control,” with the understanding that the player who makes the most correct picks will “receive something of value,” money, at the conclusion of the season or when all other participants have been eliminated from the pool. See N.J.S.A. 2C:37-1(b). As the definition of a “contest of chance” makes clear, the fact that the skill of the athletes is a factor in the outcomes of the games or that the pool participants’ acumen in predicting outcomes may play a role in the success of their picks is of no consequence.
New Jersey has a “clear and longstanding” “comprehensive policy against gambling (except where specifically authorized by the people).” The New Jersey Constitution prohibits the Legislature from authorizing gambling except through referendum and several constitutionally-established exceptions, which include the State lottery, casinos in Atlantic City, horse racing, and certain raffles conducted by charities and religious organizations. N.J. Const. art. IV, § VII, ¶ 2.
Although sports pools may be popular and even considered blameless activities by the general population, it is clear those operated by Bovery do not fall within any of these exceptions. Because these sports pools are a form of gambling that is not sanctioned by the New Jersey Constitution, they are illegal.