By Michael Hill
State Sen. Ray Lesniak couldn’t contain his enthusiasm over the acting attorney general’s directive clearing the way for sports betting in New Jersey casinos and racetracks.
“I’m excited, excited that finally my five-year battle to get sports betting in New Jersey is coming to a winning end,” he said.
The AG’s directive tells law enforcement and prosecutors to stand down on arresting, charging or prosecuting anyone civilly or criminally for certain sports betting at New Jersey casinos and racetracks.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly supported legal sports betting.
The AG, Lesniak and the Christie administration and the gaming industry interpret a recent federal appeals court decision this way:
“The federal law does not, only prevents the state from sponsoring sports betting. It does not prevent the casinos and the racetracks from doing it on their own,” said Lesniak.
The AG wants some comfort in his directive so he’s requested the federal courts clarify or modify their ruling on sports betting in New Jersey on Oct. 6.
“We’re very pleased that the governor has not given up the fight,” said Dennis Drazin.
Drazin is the legal advisor to Monmouth Park Racetrack — where a sports bar was built for sports betting. Drazin says Monmouth Park plans to begin sports betting in 45 days.
“This will mean the world to Monmouth Park. It will enable to us to stay open. It will let us to compete on a worldwide stage with world class thoroughbred horses,” Drazin said.
But Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural says his neighbors the Jets and Giants oppose sports betting and so he’s not willing to do something they would disapprove of. Gural says he’ll wait and see how it all plays out in court.
In the meantime, this question: what impact could this have on Atlantic City?
“The racetrack and casinos could see this as a lifeline to save what we all know are two struggling industries right now and the jobs this would create and the economic impact for the track is just a game changer,” Drazin said.
“Atlantic City was made for sports betting. It will bring some life back to Atlantic City and hopefully bring Revel and Showboat back on board and get a lot of those workers back to work,” said Lesniak.
Some estimates put sports betting in this country at $500 billion and bettors here at Monmouth Park say it simply makes sense for New Jersey to get a share of that.
“I think it’s a very good idea. I think they should have done it before. I think it’s going to be great,” said Mike Kelly of Ocean Grove.
While the casinos and racetracks await the federal court’s interpretation, they also wait to see whether the major sports leagues and the NCAA will challenge New Jersey’s directive.