Lawmakers Undaunted By Leagues’ Opposition to NJ Sports Betting

By David Cruz

Earlier this month, when the state announced it would not penalize racetracks or casinos that wanted to start taking sports bets, Gov. Chris Christie, through his attorney general, essentially legalized most sports betting in New Jersey. But most observers assumed a challenge would be coming, and now it has. Joined by the Justice Department, the NCAA, Major League Baseball, NFL, NBA and National Hockey League have filed briefs asking an appeals judge to stop the state.

“The court said, according to the latest decision, that they did not prohibit the state from eliminating, or standing in the way, of conducting sports betting in the state of New Jersey, so that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo. “We’re eliminating that penalty.”

Using that rationale, Assemblyman Caputo sponsored the bill in the Assembly that Christie vetoed in August. Then this month, Christie reversed course, while asking the court to clarify the language in its decision, which the governor had interpreted to mean that New Jersey could move forward on gambling. The leagues had no comment today. But at stake, say lawmakers, is a cut of the reported $500 billion wagered illegally every year.

“Well it’ll literally bring hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity,” he said. “It’ll help the gaming industry. It’ll help the gaming industry, which is struggling.”

That’s four casinos closed this year and others possibly on the way, meaning thousands of jobs lost. Then, there’s potential tax revenue for the state, which, according to its balance sheet, could use an infusion of cash. Sen. Ray Lesniak says he’s undaunted by the leagues’ motions. He is pushing a new bill.

“First of all, the Department of Justice filed their brief and basically said if we had legislation in place that I’m going to be introducing with Sen. [Joe] Kyrillos to repeal our laws against sports betting, then we can go ahead and do it,” he rationalized.

Today, some residents, even non-bettors, said they can get behind the effort to bring a sports book to the state.

Lisa Latimer of Newark says she thinks it’s a good idea. “I think it would be profitable for the state of New Jersey. They’re betting already, illegally, and we’re not getting any revenue from it,” she said.

“The NFL is certainly making plenty of money,” added John Doyle of Jackson. “The NBA is making plenty of money, so people want to try to get some of that money for themselves, let them. The state can use the revenue and if they can get it from people willingly, that’s better for me.”

Gov. Christie says he supports sports betting, and by reversing course this month, he may have, inadvertently or otherwise, set in motion the legal process that brings it to New Jersey.

All this could be decided by a judge as early as next week. But lawmakers say, as long as there are billions of dollars being wagered, they’ll continue to step to the table and roll the dice.