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Chris Sieroty

New Jersey makes push for legalized sports betting

19 September 2011

TRENTON, New Jersey -- New Jersey may soon join Nevada on the short list of states that allow legalized sports betting.

Garden State voters in November will be asked to approve a nonbinding referendum that seeks to legalize sports betting. Actual bets could not be accepted until a federal law limiting legal sports betting is repealed or overturned.

Sports book operators in Las Vegas say overturning the federal ban would be good for business. Legal sports gambling was expected to generate $200 million in new revenue to Atlantic City's casinos.

"The referendum is a good thing," said John Asher, president and CEO of Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, parent company of 17 Lucky's Race and Sports Books in Nevada. "Still the issue is the federal ban."

Asher said nothing would change unless the state of New Jersey decides to litigate the federal ban. "Then it becomes more significant," he said.

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that banned sports betting in all states expect those that already allowed it in some form. Oregon, Montana and Delaware have offered legal sports betting, which traditionally has been tied to state lotteries or the fantasy games they operate.

Asher expected to ban to be overturned, because there was just "too much money being made illegally."

The Casino Association of New Jersey is urging voters to approve the measure.

"This November referendum, if passed, would provide an important step in the continuing process towards overturning the federal sports betting ban," Robert Griffin, president of the association and CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., said in a statement. "If the referendum is passed and if the federal ban is subsequently overturned, legal sports betting would provide an economic boost for Atlantic City and the entire state of New Jersey."

Griffin said sports betting would allow Atlantic City to better compete, grow and invest in the region.

The referendum asks whether New Jersey residents want the legislature to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and at horse racetracks on the results of any professional, college, or amateur sport or athletic event.

A Fairleigh Dickenson University PublicMind poll in April found 53 percent of respondents favored legalized sports betting, while 30 percent oppose the measure.

Pete Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll, said he would put another statewide poll in the field on Monday.

Woolley said he didn't expect the numbers to move much in either direction.

"As always," said Woolley, "a lot depends on who actually shows up to vote, who reads the find print at the bottom of the ballot, and who understands the obscure language of the question."

In 2010, gamblers wagered more than $2.7 billion on sporting events in Nevada.

John English, senior vice president of business development and public affairs with American Wagering Inc., joined Asher in supporting the referendum.

He said legalized sports betting accounts for 1 percent to 2 percent of the amount wagered in the U.S. annually. The other 98 percent, or tens of billions of dollars, is wagered illegally in the U.S. or online through websites based overseas. American Wagering is the parent company of 77 Leroy's Race and Sports Books and kiosks in Nevada.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said legalized sports betting in Atlantic City would benefit local companies.

"They've got the human capital to manage sports betting," Schwartz said. "They've got a lot more experience than a lot of other folks including online companies."

It would open a new market to Leroy's mobile wagering applications, which have been introduced in Nevada. Cantor Gaming, which operates six upscale sports books in Las Vegas, is another company in line to potentially operate books in New Jersey.

Station Casinos LLC operates 16 race and sports books geared toward Las Vegas residents.

In August, gaming regulators approved Station Casinos deal to manage the sports book at the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas. It was the company's 17th book and first management deal outside the company's properties.

Both American Wagering and Brandywine Bookmaking were purchased earlier this year for $32.25 million by William Hill PLC. William Hill expects licensing by Nevada regulators to be completed in 2012.

Once the sale is completed, the British bookmaker will be entering a highly restricted U.S. market compared with the European Union.

An example of the difference in attitudes toward sports betting in the U.S. and U.K. is William Hill's three-year sponsorship deal to become the title sponsor of the Scottish soccer league's Scottish Cup championship.

The company operates more than 300 betting shops in Scotland and 2,364 in the U.K. and Ireland, and is the "official betting partner" of the Scottish Premier soccer league.
New Jersey makes push for legalized sports betting is republished from