Lesniak-Van Drew Constitutional Amendment To Allow For Sports Wagering Advances

TRENTON – A constitutional amendment sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Jeff Van Drew which would allow for in-person and account wagering on sporting events at Atlantic City’s casinos and racetracks was approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee today with a vote of 4-0, with one abstention.

“If we’re going to ensure the future vitality and viability of New Jersey’s casino and horse racing industries, legalized sports wagering has to be a part of the equation,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “This is a venture which will raise at least $100 million in new revenues for the State, and more than $500 million in economic activity for casinos and racetracks. These are funds we cannot leave on the table, and we have to do whatever we can to overturn the over-reaching – and what I believe will ultimately be determined to be unconstitutional – federal ban which gives an unfair sports wagering monopoly to gaming interests in only four states.”

“Without legal sports betting, all the progress Atlantic City has made to become a destination resort will continue to be eroded by out-of-state competition” said Van Drew, D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland. “New Jersey dropped the ball once when it came to legalizing sports betting. Now is our chance to get it right. Pennsylvania’s slot parlors are already out-hauling our own casinos, and without new ways to draw bettors to Atlantic City, its competitive edge will dull.”

The bill, SCR-46, would pose a ballot question to the voters to amend the State Constitution to allow for sports wagering at casinos in Atlantic City and racetracks around the State. The bill would permit wagers to be placed on professional, college, or amateur sports or athletic events, either in-person of from any other location using telephone, Internet or other means. The bill would prohibit 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.

Both lawmakers noted that the State constitutional amendment would be predicated on the reversal of the Federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a law which prohibits sports wagering in all but a handful of states throughout the nation. Senator Lesniak, supported by Senator Van Drew and officials representing gaming interests in New Jersey, has brought a lawsuit against the federal government to try to overturn PASPA as unconstitutional. Both lawmakers noted that a State constitutional amendment bolsters their legal case in expressing the will of the voting public in New Jersey, and establishes the legal framework to allow for sports wagering when their legal efforts to overturn the federal ban are successful.

“By putting a ballot question to the voters on whether or not to amend the State Constitution to allow sports wagering, we’re strengthening our case to overturn the federal ban,” said Senator Lesniak. “We already have a very strong legal argument to overturn PASPA, but a recorded vote by the people would be the icing on the cake to end this unfair, exclusionary federal law which gives a monopoly to just four states. This would also allow New Jersey to have the regulatory framework that, when we are successful in overturning PASPA, we will get the jump on other states in allowing sports betting within our borders.”

The lawmakers added that New Jersey’s gaming industry needs access to sports wagering in order to remain competitive in the face of the expansion of gambling in neighboring states like Pennsylvania and Delaware. They noted that sports wagering represents only a part of the economic salvation of the State’s casino and horse-racing industries, and pledged to work to implement other measures, in addition to sports wagering, to allow these industries to continue to support jobs and create revenues for New Jersey.

“It would be naive not to recognize that sports wagering is already going on in New Jersey, through illegal channels and backroom book-making,” said Senator Van Drew. “With the federal ban in place, the profits from sports wagering are funneled into other criminal enterprises, like prostitution, the illegal drug and arms trade, and organized crime. We need to legalize sports wagering and put these funds to good use in terms of funding senior transportation and prescription drug assistance, and education in New Jersey.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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