The NCAA men's college basketball championship tournament tips off in earnest today, so let the betting begin. Billions of dollars will be wagered before a champ is crowned, but New Jersey won't see any financial benefits, since sports betting is still illegal in the Garden State as a court battle to legalize it continues.

(Ryan McVay, ThinkStock)
(Ryan McVay, ThinkStock)

"We're missing an enormous opportunity because roughly $12 billion is bet over the next three weeks during the tournament," said state Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). "In Las Vegas the hotels are at 97 percent occupancy rate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent for the hotel rooms and at restaurants and shops and things like that."

Roughly 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.

The Garden State is suing the federal government and asking the courts to overturn the ban. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce soon if it will hear the case.

"We really do feel confident if the U.S. Supreme Court takes this case we're going to win and the fight was well worth it," Sweeney said. "There is such an enormous amount of gambling that goes on now, and most of its illegal."

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