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NJ Lawmakers Say Tracks Need Slots

Slot Machines
Flickr User Raging Wire

Lawmakers in northern New Jersey are encouraged that voters passed a referendum indicating they want sports betting at casinos and racetracks. But legislators from districts near the Meadowlands Racetrack still insist slot machines are needed at the tracks, even with the additional boost that sports betting, if implemented, would provide.

A nonbinding referendum that passed by a 2-to-1 margin in Tuesday’s election calls for the legalization of sports betting in New Jersey, once a federal ban is overturned.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak will introduce a bill Thursday authorizing the state Casino Control Commission to issue sports betting licenses, and says the state attorney general should sue to overturn the federal ban.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, an Essex County Democrat who has long called for slots at the Meadowlands, says sports betting is a good start but “we need the total package.”

“The total package means putting slots at racetracks like the Meadowlands, especially in light of this increased competition from other states,” Caputo said. “We can’t go halfway here.”

Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., a Hudson County Democrat, also said New Jersey’s racetracks are hamstrung by not having slots. “Our racetracks are fighting an unfair fight against the competition,” he said. “Sports betting is a billion-dollar industry, and only four states are allowed by federal law to benefit from legal sports wagering. This is a first step towards adding New Jersey to that list, generating tax dollars, creating jobs and breathing new life into our racetracks.”

It’s still first-and-10 for sports betting in New Jersey. Lesniak’s bill would start the process of laying the legal groundwork for betting and would set the tax rate on casino and racetrack profits at 8 percent, the same rate the casinos pay on their gambling revenue.

Winning bets are considered taxable income, and patrons would be responsible for declaring them as income, Lesniak said. The casinos would report winnings of $10,000 or more to the IRS.

Lesniak said state Sen. Jim Whelan, who just won re-election on Tuesday, will consider the bill later this month, adding that both houses of the legislature plan to fast-track it in the hope of getting it to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk before the current session ends in early January.

Joe Brennan Jr., president of the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association, an online gambling association, said sports betting is inevitable in New Jersey and the other 45 states where it is currently banned by the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. New Jersey missed a 1991 deadline to legalize sports betting, and it was left out of a 1992 law that allowed it in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only state taking legal bets on individual games.

“This is no longer an academic argument,” he said. “Federal law now directly conflicts with the constitutional will of the people of New Jersey.”

He said he believes the federal law eventually would be overturned.

“Of course, we could avoid all of this — the court battles, the expenditure, the silliness, really — if the Department of Justice would simply acknowledge what it did when PASPA was first enacted almost 20 years ago: that the law is unconstitutional,” Brennan said.

“We could avoid all of this if the NFL and other opponents simply recognized the obvious: sports betting is here, always has been, always will be, no matter how much finger-wagging the owners may do at every day fans who, with their wager, choose to back their favorite teams with more than just the exorbitant cost of a ticket, licensed team gear, or team logo lottery tickets.”

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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