Senate Committee Approves Bill To Allow Sports Betting In NJ

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

TRENTON – A state Senate committee approved legislation that would permit licensed casinos in Atlantic City and racetracks throughout the state to operate sports wagering pools on professional and collegiate sporting or athletic events if a federal law banning sports betting in all but four states can be overturned.

Club CalNeva, a Las Vegas based company which operates over 30 sports books and handles billions of dollars of bets, estimates that sports betting would bring in $1.3 billion in sports wagering gross revenues and $120 million in tax revenues for New Jersey. It is also estimated that sports wagering could create thousands of new jobs for New Jersey residents.

“These revenues are now going to Las Vegas, off shore internet gambling sites and organized crime-run betting rings. Our goal is to give our residents the same right to do legally in New Jersey what they can to in Nevada and bring these revenues into the state to boost our ailing casino and racing industry and create jobs and additional state revenues as well,” said state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union).

“Newspapers routinely print the line on sports events. On Wednesday, odds makers were already setting the Miami Heat as a 9-to-4 favorite to win the NBA title even before the season has begun. The Nets are 75-to-1 to win the title and 50-to-1 to win the East. Do Congress and professional sports associations expect us to believe these odds are published so New Jersey betters can hop on a plane to Vegas to place their bets legally?”

The bill (S-3113) would allow for casinos, racetracks and joint partnerships between casinos, racetracks and/or third parties to operate a sports wagering pool in a sports wagering lounge at a casino or racetrack. It would allow for wagers to be placed by people over the age of 21 on a sports event in-person, or by New Jersey residents over the age of 21 who are present in the state by electronic device or via the Internet. The bill would not permit wagers to be placed on college games that take place in New Jersey or on any game a New Jersey college team participates in regardless of where the game takes place.

The legislation follows a November ballot referendum which amended the state constitution to authorize the Legislature to enact laws allowing sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and at horse racetracks throughout the state. The ballot question passed by nearly a 2-1 margin.

If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Chris Christie, who has publicly acknowledged his support for legalized sports betting, the bill would be in direct conflict with the national Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which banned sports wagering in all states except Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Under the Act, states which had casino gambling at the time but hadn’t already allowed sports wagering were given a one-year window to authorize wagering; however, New Jersey wasn’t able to pass legislation before the deadline elapsed.

After the bill becomes New Jersey law, the next step would be for the state to file suit against the federal government stating that the federal ban violates the fifth, tenth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution and its Commerce Clause. This will mark the second time this lawsuit will be filed with federal courts. The first suit was dismissed earlier this year by federal district court judge Garrett Brown on the grounds that sports betting was not legalized by state law in New Jersey and at the time overturning the national ban would have no direct impact on the state.

“We have essentially set up a constitutional crisis, in which the will of the people, expressed at the ballot box, has come into conflict with a flawed and ultimately unconstitutional federal law,” Lesniak said. “This federal ban blatantly discriminates between states and creates a monopoly for Las Vegas casinos and illegal gambling rings. New Jersey residents are clearly supportive of sports wagering in Atlantic City and at racetracks throughout the state and now we must codify their overwhelming approval of sports wagering into law.”

The bill was released 4-1 by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, and now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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