On Tuesday, November 8th, New Jersey voters put their money down on the legal right to place bets on professional sports teams. The nonbinding referendum, and the only question to appear on the statewide ballot, was approved by a wide margin.
"The voters beat the over-under," said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who has spearheaded the effort for sports wagering. "It was a bigger win than we expected. There’s a strong momentum to fight the federal ban in New Jersey."
But it is only the first step in lawmakers’ attempts to overturn a federal ban on sports betting. Lesniak said he planned to introduce legislation tomorrow legalizing sports wagering in Atlantic City and at current and former horse racing tracks, and hoped to have it approved and on the governor’s desk before the end of the year.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, (D-Atlantic), chairman of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, and Lesniak said the initiatives will now provide them with the ammunition they need when they once again take their argument to federal court.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown dismissed a lawsuit brought by Lesniak, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and gaming advocates on the grounds that the state — through the Attorney General’s Office — should have brought the suit. Christie refused to join in the suit at that time, saying the federal ban made the effort moot. But last week the governor said he would fight for sports betting if a majority of voters approved the referendum.
Proponents of sports betting have said New Jersey is losing millions of dollars in potential revenue to offshore operations, organized crime and to the four states where that type of wagering in permitted in some form — Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware.
In 1992, former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley led the charge for the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which outlawed sports wagering in all states, but he grandfathered in the four states that had some form of it. It also gave states with casino gambling for more than 10 years — a provision inserted solely for New Jersey — a year to legalize sports betting, but New Jersey’s effort died in the Legislature.