Lawmakers are expected to present Governor Chris Christie with a proposal to allow sports betting in the state of New Jersey.
The New Jersey Senate recently passed a bill to allow casinos and racetracks to accept sports wagers, and the proposal should be on the Governor’s desk by Thursday this week. While sports wagering is forbidden under American gambling laws, state officials have announced they won’t prosecute businesses that choose to allow this form of betting.
The bill passed 27-1 in Tuesday’s Senate meeting and seemed like a risky move considering Christie’s veto in August. But since then the local administration had a change of heart, and is now asking a federal judge to lift an injunction that bans betting on sports in the US. Federal law prevents the expansion of state-sanctioned sports betting, but it doesn’t require authorities to prevent a market they didn’t regulate in the first place, officials argued.
The idea is to partially repeal laws requiring state agencies to regulate the industry, so long as casinos and racetracks consent to the wagering. If the plan succeeds, the local betting industry would get to set its own rules, rather than making the state pass new legislation.
Available by Halloween?
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act 1992 limits sports wagering to:
So what would these new sports betting rules look like? For starters, people aged 21 or older would be able to place wagers on professional sports, as well as on any collegiate sports events that don’t involve a New Jersey college team or take place in the state.
Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth explained: “This is in the best interests of our state and clearly in the best interests of several important industries that we know are having some challenges at this moment in time.”
Monmouth Park in Oceanport said it was eager to become one of the first racetracks where visitors can bet on sports in the US. The venue offered to make the needed changes in its sports bar to introduce a sports book, adding that the whole process could be done in no time.
Beck is optimistic about the near future of sports wagering in the state. “Hopefully by Halloween we’ll be taking bets,” she told reporters. But industry experts believe chances that the service will be launched in October are small, given that professional sports leagues and the NCAA are fighting the maneuver.
The organizations have invoked a 1992 federal law that prevents sports betting across the US, apart from four states. The case was initially scheduled for October 31, but it turned out US District Judge Michael Shipp had to postpone the hearings, as the state needed more time to file a legal briefing. Then again, there’s no guarantee that the judge will rule the day of the hearing.
Preparing the ground for sports betting
A 2012 state law would have ordered authorities not to prosecute casinos and racetracks that accept sports bets, but it was overturned in federal court. In September, acting Attorney General John Hoffman directed law enforcement not to hunt these companies down for offering sports wagering services. In 2011, 64% of New Jersey voters approved betting at the state’s gambling venues and tracks.
According to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Tuesday’s session took place specifically “because we want to get sports betting done.” The Assembly is yet to take a vote on the proposal, sending it to Christie. The Governor vetoed a similar bill presented in August.
“We’ll see whether he’s for it or against, since he vetoed this bill before,” Sweeney told reporters. “We need to try to get this done. An overwhelming majority of the people voted to support sports betting in the state. We’re hoping he doesn’t try to play games with it this time around.”
One last hope for Atlantic City
Senator Raymond Lesniak supports the bill and believes legalizing sports betting would actually save some of Atlantic City’s dying businesses. The gambling Mecca started the year with 12 casinos; four have closed since then and a fifth one might shut down by the middle of November.
“Now that we’re getting sports betting off the ground, Revel’s going to reopen and 3,200 people are going to get back to work, instead of it being a white elephant casting a shadow over the rest of Atlantic City,” Lesniak hopes.
The only senator who voted against the proposal was Michael Doherty, R-Warren. He rejected the original version of the bill too.
“What it’s doing is saying in certain areas of the state, the law is not going to be enforced, and I feel a little bit uneasy about supporting something like that,” Doherty argued. “I think it’s going down a dangerous path to say we’re not going to start enforcing certain laws in certain places. I think the law should be enforced equally in all places, so I find that troubling.”
The fate of sports betting in New Jersey could be decided soon. If officials allow it, the state will add a fresh industry to its land-based casinos and online gambling sites.