Lesniak confident state will prevail on sports betting

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

New Jersey’s legal battle to get a cut of the estimated $150 billion annual take from illegal sports betting has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the state is asking the justices to invalidate the 1992 federal law banning sports betting in all but four states arguing it violates states rights under the 10th amendment. State Sen. Ray Lesniak has been leading the legalization fight from the start. He sat down with Senior Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: So, fresh off an Amtrak train, that got here on time from Washington, D.C. is Sen. Ray Lesniak. You were at the Supreme Court today listening to Christie v. NCAA.

Lesniak: On my legislation.

Cruz: Can you tell me in a quick 30-second a recap of how it is we got to this point today?

Lesniak: It’s been nine years. It’s been a nine year fight for me. Three pieces of legislation got knocked down at the superior court, court of appeals every single time. But, now we got to the Supreme Court and it looks like we’re going to win.

Cruz: So, what is being argued here today? Is it the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act?

Lesniak: That’s one. That’s one of the arguments. The other one is that my legislation actually complies with it, that we don’t authorize sports betting, we just have repealed our sports betting laws at casinos and race tracks, so they can actually have sports betting. Those are the two arguments.

Cruz: Talk about PASP and what it is.

Lesniak: Well, back in the early ’90s, Bill Bradley led the charts to sports betting throughout the United States, but they had to carve out a special thing for Las Vegas and that’s the problem. Las Vegas has monopoly, but we don’t and we’re saying basically that the Congress cannot give an unfair advantage to another state over New Jersey’s interest.

Cruz: So, what’s at stake? Why should voters care about this?

Lesniak: They should care a lot because our Atlantic City casinos are dying. We’ve already seen that, 15,000 people out of work. Our race tracks are dying. Both casino gambling and race tracking. They’re old folks gambling. Not the younger generation, they are not interested in that. They are interested in sports betting. And, even our racetracks, we have more horse farms under acreage in New Jersey than any other state in the nation. So, it’s very important for Monmouth County, Ocean County and indeed for the state of New Jersey, but we’re also talking about thousands of jobs that can be invigorated. It’s kind of like when skiing was dying, then snowboarding came along and Generation X came along and brought ski resorts back into viability. That’s what’s going to happen for our casinos and our race tracks.

Cruz: So, people are wagering now across the country in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Lesniak: Hundreds of billions of dollars, illegally lining the pockets of organized crime and offshore internet sites. We want those revenues for New Jersey, but most importantly, we want those jobs that go with it.

Cruz: And, these sports teams talk about protecting the integrity of the game. But they’re also kind of involved with these fantasy sports. There’s a reason why all of these football games have a line associated with them.

Lesniak: They’re playing four games at Wembley Stadium where people are betting right in the stands. Oakland Raiders are moving where? To Las Vegas. They’re total hypocrites, they want a piece of the action and that’s why they’re opposing this.

Cruz: But isn’t there a danger that the more widespread gambling is, legally even, that it’s going to make bookies part of the game?

Lesniak: No, they’ll be put out of business. Because people want to bet legally. I used to bet when I was growing up in the local grocery store. People would rather bet legally rather than illegally, and that would be the preferred way.

Cruz: Even putting a line down creates potential for someone to want to fix that game.

Lesniak: If you have organized, regulated sports betting, you can detect unusual betting patterns.  That’s how insider trading goes on. So, if it’s underground, that’s how games can be fixed, but now if it’s up in the air and we share information, then we’ll nail them.

Cruz: What are the implications here for states’ rights? Part of the argument is that New Jersey has a right to do its own thing, but wouldn’t that apply to other issues, as well?

Lesniak: It does, it does. I’m a progressive if you will, a liberal. Traditionally, states’ rights has been a conservative argument, but in this case, it works to our benefit. Again, we’re talking about tens of thousands of jobs for New Jersey.

Cruz: Are there not implications to other law? Abortion is one that comes to mind.

Lesniak: Well, you know what, they can do that, but they don’t have to do it in a way that they did it for New Jersey, to create a special monopoly for Las Vegas. That’s where they really went into trouble. Why should they have the benefits? Why should Atlantic City be a ghost town when during the NCAA tournament [Atlantic City] is packed. That’s not right.

Cruz: Alright, Sen. Ray Lesniak, thanks for being here.

Lesniak: My pleasure, thank you.