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Senator Expects Legal Sports Betting in NJ By This Time Next Year [AUDIO]

Ethan Miller, Getty Images

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

State Senator Ray Lesniak says, “I’ll be introducing legislation today to legalize sports betting (and) directing the Casino Control Commission to issue licenses for sports books at our casinos and at our racetracks.”

Almost 20 years ago the federal government gave New Jersey one year to pass a bill to allow sports betting, but the deadline came and went and no such measure was approved. Under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act it is currently unconstitutional for the Garden State to legalize sports wagering in casinos and racetracks, but Tuesday voters showed overwhelming support for the idea.

Anytime voters approve a ballot question to change the constitution it must also be codified in law. Lesniak says, “I expect to get my bill through both houses of the legislature and on the Governor’s (Chris Christie) desk for his signature before the end of the year.”

Lesniak’s law firm filed suit against the sports betting ban, but the case was dismissed in March when a judge ruled that Lesniak and State Senate President Steve Sweeney did not have the legal standing to be plaintives in such a suit. The State Attorney General’s Office will have to do battle with the federal government to get the ban lifted, but Lesniak says his previous suit gives the A.G’s office a leg up.

“All the research has been done,” says Lesniak. “All they have to do is cut and paste. They can be in court shortly after the Governor signs the legislation…..Next year at this time when the (New York) Giants play the (Philadelphia) Eagles there will be no rooms in Atlantic City because there will be so many tourists there to enjoy Atlantic City and betting on the game as well.”

Hoping to avoid a long, costly legal battle over whether New Jerseyans should be able to bet on sports, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey says he will introduce a bill Monday giving the state an immediate exemption from a federal ban on sports betting. He says the measure would take effect immediately upon passage, but how likely it is to get through Congress remains to be seen.

According to Lesniak, the ban puts New Jersey and 45 other states at a competitive disadvantage because it allows only four states in the nation (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana) to have a monopoly.

“It’s just so unfair that during Super Bowl week or (NCAA) Final Four weekend you can’t get into Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a ghost town,” explains Lesniak. “Sports betting will provide some good, very high paying jobs that are technologically oriented and it will boost our tourism.”

The National Football League has been steadfastly opposed to sports wagering in the Garden State for fear that it could compromise the integrity of the league.

“I’m going to vote ‘yes’ for those who are concerned about what I’m going to do,” said Christie last week when asked about the sports betting ballot question. “I’m voting ‘yes’ on it. I think it’s important for New Jersey to have this option and I don’t think it’s fair that it’s restricted to just a few states.”

Christie said he didn’t join in that lawsuit because he didn’t know for sure if the people of New Jersey truly want to legalize sports betting, but, “If the public question passes next week I’ll be sitting down with Senator Lesniak and others to develop a strategy about how we try to implement the will of the people.”

The Governor knows first-hand that sports betting is already happening here. He explained last week, “I saw somebody at the (New York) Giants game this past weekend and I said, ‘Great win,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, well, the Giants didn’t cover (the betting point spread) and it blew my parlay.’

Now, gambling’s illegal in New Jersey on sports as far as I can tell, but I don’t think any of us are of the illusion that betting on NFL games isn’t happening every week in New Jersey. So, let’s get that economy out from underground. Let’s get it above ground. Let’s have the people who want to gamble on sports be able to do so legally and let’s have the people who benefit from it be the people of the State of New Jersey.”

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