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NJ SENATE PANEL APPROVES SPORTS BETTING BILL

Link to NorthJersey.com

NJ SENATE PANEL APPROVES SPORTS BETTING BILL
BY JOHN BRENNAN
STAFF WRITER
THE RECORD
LAST UPDATED: THURSDAY DECEMBER 1, 2011, 4:22 PM

A state Senate committee approved a bill Thursday that would permit sports betting at the state’s racetracks and casinos, moving supporters closer to a showdown with the federal government over whether any state besides Nevada can offer extensive wagering on pro and college sports for adults 21 and older.

The 4-1 vote by the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee follows by a month New Jersey voters’ approval, by a 2-to-1 margin, of a sports betting ballot question.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, the bill’s sponsor, said he hopes to have the state Senate and Assembly vote favorably on the bill and have the measure on Governor Christie’s desk within 30 days.

Christie, previously skeptical about the idea, signaled two weeks before Election Day that he would vote for the ballot question. After the vote, Christie said he would “work as hard as I can try to make it a reality” adding, “it’s going to be a long process.”

But even if Christie signs the bill into law, there still is a federal prohibition in place against sports betting, except for Nevada and, to a much more limited degree, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Those states are exempted because they offered such wagering at the time that the law ¬— sponsored by former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J. — passed in 1993.

Lesniak’s federal lawsuit against the prohibition was dismissed last year, in part because no clear economic harm to New Jersey could be shown without some formal support for sports betting being shown at the ballot box or by the Legislature.

“We have essentially set up a constitutional crisis in which the will of the people, expressed at the ballot box, has come into conflict with a flawed and ultimately unconstitutional federal law,” Lesniak said. “This federal ban blatantly discriminates between states and creates a monopoly for Las Vegas casinos and illegal gambling rings.”

Lesniak contended that the posting of betting lines in daily newspapers demonstrated the extent of illegal gambling taking place in the state.

“On Wednesday, odds makers were already setting the Miami Heat as a 9-to-4 favorite to win the National Basketball Association title, even before the season has begun,” Lesniak said. “The Nets are 75-to-1 to win the title — no surprise — and 50-to-1 to win the East. Do Congress and professional sports associations expect us to believe these odds are published so New Jersey bettors can hop on a plane to Vegas to place their bets legally?”

The NBA and the National Football League each previously have had lobbyists testify in Trenton objecting to the expansion of sports betting beyond Nevada, but none testified Thursday.

Gary Schneider, a former compulsive gambler who grew up in North Bergen and now is an advocate for awareness of that problem, said he was neutral on the bill, because the illegality of sports betting didn’t stop him from betting as much as $100,000 a week until he stopped gambling 15 years ago. He said his main focus was on seeing sufficient funding for treatment for compulsive gamblers.

State Sen. Bob Gordon, D-Fair Lawn, and Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, were among the yes votes. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, voted against the bill after questioning the amount of projected wagering from sports betting in spite of a stagnant economy.

E-mail: brennan@northjersey.com Blog: northjersey.com/brennan Twitter: @BergenBrennan


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