Legalized Sports Gambling in New Jersey Could Go Before US Supreme Court
Proponents of legalized gambling in New Jersey have argued that the future of Atlantic City casinos centers around giving those casinos the full range of gambling options. Much of the debate has centered around the ability of Boardwalk casinos to offer iPoker and online casino gambling, but the debate touches on other aspects of New Jersey gaming law.
Gambling advocates are asking the federal government to allow Atlantic City casinos to operate sports books. If the Boardwalk casinos could take sports wagers the way Las Vegas casinos do, they would be able to lure more land-based gamblers than competitors in nearby states.
To help boost their local gaming industry, state officials have begun to change the U.S. federal government’s stance on sports betting. In February, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appealed New Jersey’s right to legalize sports gambling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, public and private individuals debated the ethics of state-sponsored sports wagers.
Only part of the debate has centered on whether licensed sportsbooks would help the state meet budgetary shortfalls. While sports betting is often cited as a reason Atlantic City casinos cannot compete in the 21st century gaming market, some have argued that it’s a moral imperative to legalize gambling on sporting events.
In building their case in support of Governor Christie’s move to legalize sports bets, several proponents of legalization have cited the ability of legal bookmakers to curtail illegal betting as an additional positive. In the past couple of weeks, several prominent reports have challenged that assumption.
Illegal Bookmakers Still Get Calls
Angelo Lutz, a legitimate restaurant owner, says organized crime is going to continue prosper, even if sports betting is made legal. Illegal bookmakers are likely to continue to receive wagers, because betters can bet on sports on credit through the bookies.
Lutz says, “The guy that has no money in his pocket…is still going to call the local bookmaker to bet.”
John Alite, a former New Jersey mobster and bookmaker who spent time in prison for his activities, seconds Lutz’s rationale. He says legalized sports betting will not end the mob’s illegal betting activities. Alite says, “It’s just one more bookmaker coming to town.”
Experts estimate that as much as $500 billion is wagered on sports any given year illegally in the United States. Estimated revenue for New Jersey would be $100 million, a small percentage of the overall amount wagered. Nevada would have about $72 million in wagers per year.
New Jersey Appeals to Supreme Court
The State of New Jersey has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to see whether it will review their case to allow legal gambling on sport. The court receive 10,000 appeals every year and only reviews a small percentage of the cases, so there is no assurance New Jersey will ever have its case heard.
Some predict the Garden State will get its day in court. Jack Ford, an analyst for CBS News, says, “It’s a fundamental states-rights issue.” He mentioned the 1992 decision by the federal government to offer four states the right to have legal sports gambling. Now, Chris Christie argues that the federal government had no right back in 1992 to force a one-year window on the issue.
The Bradley Act
In 1992, the United States Congress passed the “Professional And Amateur Sports Protection Act“, also known as the PASPA or “Bradley Act”. This statute allows four specific U.S. states to continue to have legal sports gambling: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana. A fifth state, New Jersey, was offered similar immunity from federal law, but the leaders of the state had to approve it within the next calendar year.
Throughout the 1992-93 legislative year, the New Jersey legislature never took the steps necessary to make sports gambling legal. Though efforts were made to make it so, these fell through and therefore sports gambling continued to be illegal in New Jersey.
At the time, some state politicians predicted the failure to pass new laws would hurt Atlantic City. Most of the state’s leaders failed to see the dangers posed by this omission. 1992 was before the Internet became widespread and mainstream, so the Boardwalk casinos did not have to contend with competition from online casinos.
During the era when the Bradley Act could have been passed, the racecourses of Pennsylvania had not installed gaming machines in order to become “racinos”. Though the Foxwoods Casino had opened in Connecticut, the Mohegan Sun Casino had yet to be built.
In 1993, Atlantic City had little of the competition it now faces for customers on the eastern seaboard. Only when nearby states began to build up their own land-based assets did the Boardwalk establishments begin to have major issues. With the onset of Internet casinos, poker rooms, and sports books, another substantial type of competition took more players from Atlantic City gaming interests.
Lack of Sports Gambling Hurts the Boardwalk
Under the new set of circumstances, the inability to offer sports betting became a major impediment to luring new gamblers to Atlantic City. Without all the enticements the Las Vegas and Reno casinos offered, Atlantic City was left to flounder in the early parts of the 2000’s. Even after the UIGEA in 2006, American real money sports betters continued to find overseas bookmakers in order to gamble online.
To help offset these issues, in 2013 the state of New Jersey made online casinos legal. While this has helped create a new revenue stream for the land-based casinos, many still see the inception of sports betting to be another key to saving Atlantic City gaming interests.