Tuesday, May 8,2012 : WHICH WAY WILL NEW JERSEY'S CHRISTIE JUMP ON SPORTS BETTING?
Relationships turning cooler between pro-sports betting senator and the governor
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who has already shot down one intrastate online gambling legalization initiative last year appears to be stalling on his legislature's move to legalise sports betting in the state, in the process creating a cooler relationship climate with the main sports betting protagonist, Senator Ray Lesniak.
Lesniak and Sen James Whelan have spearheaded an attempt to challenge the federal Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act, bending over backwards to craft the bill in such a way as to enlist Christie's cooperation, and consulting with his staff.
Their initiative to allow sports betting in the state has the backing of many residents, with a ballot that showed 2 to 1 were in favour last November.
The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 limits sports wagering to four states: Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware, and Lesniak wants this discriminatory law to be challenged.
However, there are now fears that Christie may be backing off for political reasons in an election year, prompting Lesniak to comment after his latest meeting with the governor's staff:
"Christie is putting the future of Atlantic City in jeopardy because of his overriding concern for support from [Las Vegas land gambling mogul] Adelson, a right-wing money machine of Newt Gingrich and right-wing causes; Caesars, a huge contributor based in Nevada; and Woody Johnson, Jets owner and NFL opponent of sports gaming."
The publication philly.com reports that in January, the Legislature passed a bill to let casinos and tracks offer sports betting if a federal ban were lifted.
Christie signed the bill January 17, signalling that he had a more positive view of internet gambling following the decision in December by the US Department of Justice to reverse its long-standing position by stating that the Wire Act of 1961 did not apply to Internet gaming.
Approached by philly.com for a view, Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, brushed off suggestions of dilatory behaviour, saying: "Democrats criticize us for everything, so what else is new? I don't feel the need to weigh in at this moment."
However, Assemblyman Chris A. Brown, a Republican like the governor, said he was not aware of any change in the governor's position.
"It is my understanding that Gov. Christie supports intrastate Internet gaming," said Brown. "Obviously, this is a great opportunity for New Jersey to create new jobs and new economic activity."
Lesniak appears to disagree, pointing out that Christie has been mentioned as a possible presidential running mate for the Republicans’ Mitt Romney, and surmising that this could be the reason for his reluctance to move on the sports betting bill.
Lesniak also believes that the governor would not want to fall out with major Republican funder, Las Vegas gambling mogul and staunch anti-online gambling critic Sheldon Adelson.
Lesniak said he concluded during a meeting on April 27 that the governor had also cooled on the concept of internet gambling, even if operated from servers in Atlantic City and operated by existing land operators.
The meeting included himself, State Sen. Whelan and members of Christie's policy and legal staffs – Lou Goetting, Nick DiRocco and Bob Garinger
"We were told … that the Atlantic City casinos have not made the case that Internet gaming is good for them," Lesniak said of the 10-minute meeting with Christie's aides. "Sen. Whelan and I were stunned. We were led to believe that there were only technical issues to clear up."
Whelan, who backed Lesniak's account of the meeting, added, "Again, from the front office, I got mixed signals."
Lesniak's revised online gambling bill passed a Senate committee last month and was slated for a floor vote by the end of the month. An Assembly version has yet to be heard in committee.
"Atlantic City casino revenues have declined 29 of the 30 months since Gov. Christie's been in office," Lesniak told philly.com. "Internet gaming will add $200 million a year to their revenues, and likely will make the difference between some closing or staying open and saving hundreds of jobs."
Sports wagering is expected to generate another $225 million in new revenue for the casinos and tracks, but openly supporting sports betting now could be just as problematic for the Republican governor, said Lesniak.
After the positive November ballot, Christie could have filed a declaratory judgment action, or started the regulatory and licensing process to force the Justice Department or the professional sports leagues to file suit to stop it, Lesniak accuses. He's done neither. And legal experts say the delays on both fronts could be detrimental to Atlantic City.
Lawyer Michael Sklar, who represents several Atlantic City casinos, said his clients were eager to offer it. "From the perspective of first-to-market, it's a big deal to get in there and get established because it's inevitable that a lot of other states will legalize it as well," he said.
Philly.com quotes an anonymous internet gaming industry insider on the contentious issues and delays: "If two of your biggest donors don't like what you're selling, you delay the sale."