Chris Christie Signs Bill Which May Clear the Way for Legal New Jersey Sports Betting
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill on Friday which partially repeals the state’s sports gambling ban. The repeal clears the way for gaming venues inside the state to begin taking sports bets as early as next weekend. Affected venues will be the Atlantic City casinos, along with racetracks within New Jersey, such as Monmouth Park.
The State Assembly passed the legislation on Thursday, with support among Democrats and Republicans. Earlier, the State Senate had passed the legislation. Christie released a statement after signing the bill which read: “As I’ve said all along, I am a strong proponent of legalized sports wagering in New Jersey. But given earlier decisions by federal courts, it was critical that we follow a correct and appropriate path to curtail new court challenges and expensive litigation. I believe we have found that path in this bipartisan legislative effort.”
Legal Sports Betting
New Jersey’s attempts to legalize sports betting have been long and complicated. The current attempt revolves around a distinction between laws which license sports wagers and the concept of unregulated sports betting. While the 1992 federal ban mandated in the PASPA law bans states from legalizing, licensing, and regulating sportsbooks (except in four states), the same law does not prevent a state from allowing unregulated sports gambling to continue.
That was the interpretation put forward by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in his ruling against New Jersey in 2012. While he ruled on behalf of the collected U.S. sports associations which had sued the state of New Jersey, Judge Shipp also left a loophole for New Jersey to exploit. New Jersey’s original mistake in passing a 2011 sports gambling law eventually was exposed for all to see when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s appeals on earlier rulings in federal court.
New Jersey’s New Tactics
At the time (June 2014), that seemed to be the end of the road for New Jersey’s legal sports betting industry. In August 2014, the state legislature passed a new bill which repealed sports betting laws earlier passed, but Chris Christie vetoed the bill. Senators like Raymond Lesniak were scathing in their criticism of the governor, who seemed to have undermined the last chance of the industry he had supported for years.
Then in September 2014, Christie and his Acting Attorney General, John J. Hoffman, informed state regulators they should not punish gaming operations which ran sportsbooks. Though these operations could not be licensed and regulated, they would be allowed to operate without interference from the state. This spurred a second lawsuit by the combined lawyers of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA. These organizations said legal sports betting would ruin the integrity of their sports.
Sports Gambling Laws Revisited
This time around, the sports leagues are going to have a harder argument to make. For one, sports gambling already exists in four U.S. states. Sports betting in those states hasn’t harmed the leagues in 22 years since the PASPA was passed. It would be hard to argue that New Jersey would present a mortal danger to pro football, baseball, or basketball. The lawyers have to argue that New Jersey would be a bad precedent, but it’s hard to say why Nevada, Oregon, Montana, or Delaware is any more deserving of the right to have sportsbooks than any other state.
Before, the sports associations could argue that New Jersey was directly challenging a federal law. Now, New Jersey isn’t challenging federal law, but simply overlooking activity which isn’t illegal according to New Jersey laws.
Raymond Lesniak Comments
State Senator Raymond Lesniak has been a leader on the gambling issue for years, and he championed the latest sports gambling bill in the New Jersey legislature. He added, “This will help clear away the legal obstacles and provide a clear path to finally bringing sports betting to New Jersey. And it couldn’t happen at a more important time. It will be a lifeline to Atlantic City casinos and for the horse racing industry, creating jobs and economic opportunities that will serve the city and the state for years to come. Sports betting is now much closer to a reality in New Jersey.”
Why Sportsbooks Are Needed
New Jersey’s gambling industry desperately needs an influx of cash. Four of Atlantic City’s twelve casinos have closed this year, with a fifth ready to fold in the coming weeks. Sports gambling could not only save the final seven casinos, but it could be part of a general turnaround of the gaming industry in the state. New Jersey’s leaders also have tried legalized online gambling to help the moribund land-based industry, while they are considering legalized online skill games.
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