New Jersey residents would be able to bet on sports games using their home computers or even smartphones under a proposal making its way through the state Legislature.

Although the sports betting measure was designed to drive new customers to the casinos and tracks -- with hopes they would then gamble on table games, slots or bet on horses -- the legislation would let any New Jersey residents who are at least 21 years old use computers or electronic hand-held devices to place bets on sports games as well, as long as they are physically in the state.

A state Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill that would legalize sports betting in New Jersey -- provided a federal ban on it in all but four states can somehow be overcome. On Nov. 8, about two-thirds of New Jersey voters voted in favor of legal sports betting in a non-binding referendum.

"It's a key portion of the revenue," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat sponsoring the bill. "All the studies we've seen determined that the Internet part of sports betting is the most lucrative revenue raiser."

The committee also deleted a portion of the bill Thursday that would have set up a sports betting parlor at the site of the former Garden State Park racetrack site in Cherry Hill. The bill had made

a special exception for Cherry Hill because lawmakers considered the affluent suburban community near Philadelphia as a lucrative market and wanted New Jersey to have a competitive advantage over Pennsylvania in offering sports betting there.

But the site has no building that can be used for a sports betting parlor, and there are no immediate plans for one. Lesniak told The Associated Press that lawmakers agreed to delete it from the bill in order to speed it on its way to Gov. Chris Christie, who said before the referendum that he would vote in favor of it.

Lesniak said the idea is to quickly get a bill to the governor, hope he signs it, and then have the state file a lawsuit to overturn the federal ban on the grounds it is unconstitutional in treating states differently.

"There's no need for us to get into the nitty-gritty of selecting a site there right now," Lesniak said. "We need to get this to the governor to sign. There's no site right now in Cherry Hill, so we don't need to deal with that right now."

If Pennsylvania ever moves to offer sports betting, a bill would be introduced at that point to add Cherry Hill as an approved sports betting site, Lesniak said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote on Dec. 15. An Assembly version of the bill remains in committee there, with no vote scheduled.

The bill would tax sports betting revenue at the same 8 percent rate it taxes other casino winnings. It also would be subject to the same additional 1.25 percent state-mandated redevelopment contributions that casinos must make on their regular gambling winnings.

William Pascrell III, a lobbyist on behalf of the sports betting bill, said there could be $10 billion in sports bets made in New Jersey in the first year the new law is in effect.

An unspecified portion of the revenue generated by the sports bets would go to fund programs for compulsive gamblers. Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said legalizing sports betting will increase the number of problem gamblers in the state, which he currently puts at 350,000. Of those, 9 percent say they have a problem with sports betting, even though it is now illegal.

Gary Schneider of Plainfield, a compulsive gambler, said his life was wrecked by betting on sports events. Starting at age 13 and continuing until age 40, he developed a gambling problem so severe he would be betting $100,000 a week on sporting events -- his entire annual salary from a New York publishing house.

"I became what's known as a board gambler: I bet the entire board," he said. "If there were 60 games on a Saturday with college football, I bet 60 games. This bill is going to create more Gary Schneiders."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)