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Bills Would Let NJ Avoid US Ban on Sports Betting

Sports Betting
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With talk of New York Giants (who play in New Jersey) and the odds of them winning the Super Bowl in two weeks dominating the airwaves Monday, two New Jersey congressmen introduced separate bills that would let their state offer legal sports betting.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Cape May County Republican, introduced a bill Monday giving all states until 2016 to legalize sports betting. New Jersey and 45 other states missed a 1992 deadline to approve sports betting, which is now illegal everywhere but Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Long Branch Democrat, introduced a separate bill Monday to exempt New Jersey from the existing federal ban.

New Jersey has passed and enacted a law legalizing sports betting, but the federal ban still must be overcome before Atlantic City casinos and the state’s four horse tracks can start taking bets on professional and college sporting events.

Voters in a non-binding referendum in November indicated by a 2-to-1 margin they wanted legal sports betting in New Jersey.

“New Jersey has been clear about its intent to host sports betting,” LoBiondo said. “Legalizing sports betting would strengthen Atlantic City in the face of stiff competition, giving it an additional edge to attract visitors and critical tourism dollars.”

His bill, called the Sports Gaming Opportunity Act, would give the 46 states that don’t offer sports betting until Jan. 1, 2016, to pass laws authorizing it within their borders. The deadline extension is the only change LoBiondo would make to the 1992 law.

LoBiondo had considered a bill similar to Pallone’s to give New Jersey an exemption from the ban. And he also had weighed a bill that would have repealed the entire 1992 law, allowing all states to immediately offer sports betting. But he settled on the current bill as the most likely to make it through Congress.

Pallone said the current federal ban on all but four states is unfair because it treats states differently.

“The existing federal law is unconstitutional and arbitrary, giving four states access to this billion-dollar industry while shutting out the rest,” Pallone said. “The citizens of New Jersey have made it clear they want the opportunity to share in the profits from professional sports betting. This legislation will help even the playing field and uphold our state’s wishes on what is clearly a state issue.”

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who signed New Jersey’s sports betting law last week, said he’d be happy if either bill were approved in Congress.

“Whatever allows us to be able to institute sports gambling in New Jersey in a way that’s legal, I’m in favor of,” he said.

“Whatever approach can get through Congress, fine by me. They both sound like they would help us get done what we want to get done.”

New Jersey has been pushing to legalize sports betting for the past few years, soon after Atlantic City’s 11 casinos experienced a downturn in revenues that has lasted five years. It was brought on mainly by competition from casinos in neighboring states and worsened by the sluggish economy.

Pallone said he is open to working with LoBiondo to pass legislation that would legalize sports betting, even though Pallone feels a single-state exemption for New Jersey would be easier to get through Congress. He predicted his measure might be attached to some larger bill to move it through Congress.

And New Jersey state Senator Raymond Lesniak, who unsuccessfully sued the federal government to try to overturn the ban, said the state Attorney General’s Office plans to file a similar suit within the next few weeks to challenge the federal ban. The attorney general’s office has refused to comment on that possibility.

State Sen. James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, said he wished the law could be in place within the next two weeks.

“The point spread on the Super Bowl: that’s all I heard driving over here today,” he said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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