01/10/2012 : The ball is once again in Governor Chris Christie's court…
In a late night sitting Monday, at the tail end of the current session of the Legislature, New Jersey politicians put their weight behind a state bill supporting the introduction of sports betting, and authorising the state to challenge the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in court if necessary.
Reporting on the vote, CBS noted that getting the measure through the New Jersey House and Senate was the easy part, because the state could face a tough federal court battle to overturn the PASPA, which currently bans sports betting in all but four states.
Sports betting has been on the New Jersey political agenda for some time, and was the subject of a referendum among state residents in November last year. Sixty five percent of state residents who responded gave their approval for sports betting moves, and that was followed by the introduction of a bill that would let New Jerseyans place sports bets at the 11 Atlantic City casinos and the state's four horse racing tracks. The measure would allow some restaurants and bars to take bets on sporting events, too.
On Monday, first the Senate, and then the Assembly in an after-hours vote, approved the measure, forwarding it to the governor for approval.
That signature is likely to be forthcoming; following the November ballot, Gov. Chris Christie said that he would respect the will of the people.
State Senator Ray Lesniak, who has played a leading role in the introduction and passage of the bill, said: "These votes, by both houses of the legislature and the voters of New Jersey, mark the beginning of the end of the inequitable federal ban on sports betting. This time next year our residents won't have to fly to Las Vegas or visit their local bookie to bet on the Giants, Jets or Eagles to win the Super Bowl. They will be able to go to an Atlantic City casino, Monmouth Racetrack or The Meadowlands."
The Senator went further, confidently predicting that the state would win any court battle with the federal administration and citing the powerful impact that the 65 percent ballot support by New Jersey residents would deliver.
"I guarantee a victory in the federal courts for New Jersey to be able to enjoy the same benefits from sports betting Congress has given to Nevada," he told reporters.
New Jersey missed a 1991 federal deadline to legalise sports betting, and was left out of the 1992 law that allowed it in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only state taking legal bets on individual games. Now, the state's struggling Atlantic City casinos and racing tracks, along with competition from neighbouring states, dictate a different approach.
Lesniak had to give some ground to ensure the sports betting bill progressed before the end of the Legislative season, and he did this by shelving elements of the measure that would have allowed residents to bet from their home computers or cellphones.
Atlantic City casinos welcomed passage of the bill, saying it would help them compete with gambling houses in neighboring states.
"If and when the federal ban is overturned, this law would permit casinos to accept wagers on sporting events, adding another amenity to enhance our ability to compete and grow as a destination resort," the Casino Association of New Jersey said in a statement Monday.
"Legalized sports betting would provide an economic boost for Atlantic City and the entire state of New Jersey, as it would attract more tourists to our city and its world-class entertainment, thriving restaurants, brand-name retail shopping and world-famous Boardwalk."