Legislative Action the Next Step in Overturning Unfair Federal Ban
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Jeff Van Drew which would allow licensed casinos in Atlantic City and racetracks throughout the state to operate sports wagering pools on professional and collegiate sporting events was approved today by the Senate by a vote of 35-2, with final approval pending later today in the Assembly.
“Today’s legislative action represents the latest step in ensuring that the will of the people of New Jersey is expressed, and that we’re not going to sit back while Las Vegas and other gaming jurisdictions get all the benefits of an unfair and arbitrary ban on sports betting,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “This bill would correct a decades old mistake, and would allow New Jersey to begin implementing sports wagering operations which would create new jobs, incentivize new economic activity in a recovering gaming sector, and create new tax revenues for the State. It would also position us to topple an unfair federal ban on sports wagering which is costing our State while boosting the gaming economy in Las Vegas, where sports wagering is exempt from the ban.”
“After years of working to legalize sports wagering – moving it through one house only to have it stall in the other – it’s rewarding to see the finish line finally within reach,” said Senator Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic, who sponsored the sports wagering bill in the Assembly before working with Senator Lesniak in the Senate. “Sports wagering has transformational potential for Atlantic city’s casinos and New Jersey’s horse tracks, and will help make New Jersey the premiere gaming destination on the East Coast. I’m proud to have worked on this legislation every step of the way, and I’m looking forward to sports wagering finally being the law of the land in the Garden State.”
The bill, S-3113, would allow for casinos, racetracks and joint partnerships between casinos, racetracks and/or third parties to operate sports wagering pools at the State’s casinos or racetracks. The bill would allow people over the age of 21 to place a bet on a sporting event in-person at special lounges created in casinos, racetracks or at the site of a former racetrack with the State of New Jersey. The bill would not permit wagers to be placed on college games that take place in New Jersey or on any game in which a New Jersey college team participates, regardless of where in the country the game takes place.
The legislation follows a November ballot referendum which amended the state constitution to authorize the Legislature to enact laws allowing sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and at horse racetracks throughout the state. The ballot question passed by nearly a 2-1 margin.
“The voting public has spoken, and they demand to have the option to bet on sporting events in the Garden State,” said Senator Van Drew. “The ability to set up and operate sports wagering parlors would be an economic boon for Atlantic City casinos and horse tracks throughout the State, and could help invigorate our struggling gaming economy.”
Club CalNeva, a Las Vegas-based company which operates over 30 sports books and handles billions of dollars in bets, estimates that sports betting will bring in, annually, $1.3 billion in sports wagering gross revenues and $120 million in tax revenues for New Jersey. It is also estimated that sports wagering could create thousands of new jobs for New Jersey residents.
“We cannot afford to leave these revenues and jobs on the table, while New Jersey is fighting to keep its position as the gaming leader of the East Coast,” said Senator Lesniak. “With the ability to take bets on sporting events, New Jersey casinos and racetracks will be able to compete nationally for gaming dollars, and will be able to expand the gaming workforce to put unemployed New Jerseyans back to work.”
The sponsors acknowledge that, if signed into law by Governor Chris Christie, the new law would come into conflict with existing federal law which prohibits sports wagering outside of Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 allowed states which already had casino gambling at the time, but hadn’t already allowed sports wagering, to opt-in within one-year by passing enabling legislation. Despite the objections of gaming advocates at the time, including Senator Lesniak, New Jersey’s legislative leaders refused to put legislation establishing sports wagering up for a vote before the deadline lapsed.
After the bill becomes law, the State would have to file suit against the federal government, stating that the federal ban violates the fifth, tenth and 14th Amendments to the United State Constitution, as well as the Commerce Clause. Senator Lesniak had previously sued the federal government on behalf of the people of New Jersey, but the suit was dismissed on the grounds that sports wagering was not legal in New Jersey and that overturning the national ban would have no impact on the State. With New Jersey legalizing sports wagering through referendum and subsequent enabling legislation, Senator Lesniak’s suit would have to be decided on the merits of the Constitutional argument, and the Union County lawmaker said he believes that the courts will ultimately rule in New Jersey’s favor.
“Right now, the revenues from sports wagering are going to Las Vegas, to off-shore Internet gambling sites, and to betting rings operated by, and fueling organized crime,” said Senator Lesniak. “By passing sports wagering into law, and by overturning the unfair federal ban on sports wagering, we’re attempting to bring sports wagering into the light, where it can be regulated, and where the State can benefit economically. It’s time that New Jersey fights for gaming dollars within our state, rather than forfeiting those dollars to Las Vegas, off-shore operators, and organized crime.”
“Legalized sports wagering could be another tool in helping bring our casinos and racetracks back from the brink of fiscal insolvency,” said Senator Van Drew. “With the expansion of gaming in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York, we have to be willing to reinvent the gaming economy in the Garden State to continue to compete for gaming dollars which are stretched thinner and thinner. By allowing casinos and racetracks to operate sports betting, we can continue to make progress on our efforts to bolster gaming in the Garden State.”
If approved in the Assembly, the bill would go to the Governor to be signed into law.