TRENTON – Following news reports that 13 individuals with connections to organized crime were arrested and charged in an alleged scheme to use an overseas sports betting website to run an illegal online gambling operation, state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak called on the Gov. Chris Christie to support legalizing internet wagering and removing the federal ban on sports wagering to direct funds from these activities to legitimate businesses within New Jersey.
“Under the current laws, organized crime has a virtual monopoly on sports book, and they’re using offshore internet operators to bring their business into the 21st century,” said Lesniak, D-Union, and sponsor of bills to mainstream internet wagering and sports wagering. “This case represents everything that’s wrong about our current policy regarding internet wagering and sports wagering. The Governor should support legislation to legitimize internet gaming, and support the legal challenge to the federal ban on sports betting, in order to give our casinos access to new revenue streams and drag currently illegal gaming practices into the light of government regulation.”
This week’s bust resulted in 13 men – one an alleged capo for the Genovese organized crime family, and 12 members and associates of the family’s “LaScala Crew” – being charged with traditional organized crimes as well as the internet sports wagering scheme. The federal charges ranged from bookmaking, loan sharking, cargo thefts and illegal gambling in social clubs, but Michael Ward, the head of the FBI’s Newark division said in a statement that the use of internet gaming and off-shore gaming operations “demonstrates an evolution and increased sophistication, but the threat of force or violence to serve their purpose remains the same.”
Lesniak has previously said that mainstreaming gaming options like internet wagering and sports wagering would bring the practices under government regulation, where criminal operators could be discovered and prosecuted quicker. He also said that legalized internet wagering and sports betting would result in thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in state revenues for the Casino Revenue Fund, which provides funding for needed social services for seniors and the disabled, and hundreds of millions of dollars in new economic activity for casinos and horse tracks.
“We should not be forfeiting these funds to organized crime and offshore betting operations,” said Lesniak. “By providing a legal avenue for New Jersey residents to engage in sports wagering or Internet gaming, we would be able to take a funding source away from organized crime and channel it to economic output for our ailing gaming industry and funding for programs for seniors and people living with disabilities. I hope the Governor recognizes [Tuesday]’s bust as a wake up call, and joins in our efforts to diversify gaming and take some of the power out of mafia-operated illegal gaming rings in the Garden State.”
Lesniak’s internet wagering bill is pending consideration before the full Senate. Last November, voters approved a ballot referendum – sponsored by Lesniak – to legalize sports wagering in New Jersey, but NJ casinos are prohibited from operating sports wagering programs by a federal ban. Lesniak has led efforts to have the federal ban overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, and with the approval of the ballot referendum, is in a better position to make the case that New Jersey has legal standing to challenge the ban on its constitutionality.
“Governor Christie’s support – in our legislative efforts to legalize internet gaming, and in our legal efforts to overturn the federal ban on sports wagering – would certainly improve the odds,” added Lesniak. “I urge him to join with us to diversify legal gaming in New Jersey while simultaneously taking a stand against illegal gaming operations which fund organized crime and send New Jersey dollars overseas.”
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