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Chris Sieroty

Sports betting gets a push in New Jersey

1 May 2012

If you thought bipartisanship between Republicans and Democrats in Congress was gone forever, you'd be wrong.

Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) announced a unique partnership on Monday to lobby for legalization of sports betting.

Pallone's measure, H.R. 3081, would exempt New Jersey from current federal law banning sports wagering except in four states. LoBiondo, who represents Atlantic City, introduced H.R. 3797, allowing any state to add sports betting, if the state approves such activity by Jan. 1, 2016.

"Sports betting is widely supported in New Jersey, but federal law stands in the way of considerable revenues that will undoubtedly benefit the state," Pallone said. "Both of these bills will enable us to bring sports betting to the state."

In a joint statement, Pallone and LoBiondo said their measures represent "different, but equally effective pathways of bringing sports gaming, and its associated revenue potentially amounting to billions to the state."

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, basically outlawed sports wagering in most states. Congress provided a one-year window of opportunity from the effective date of the act on Jan. 1, 1993, for states that operated licensed casinos for the prior 10 years to enact laws permitting sports wagering, but New Jersey took no action on sports betting.

Nevada, with $2.87 billion wagered last year on college and professional sports, is the only state that allows casinos to operate full sports books. Delaware can only offer multibet plays on National Football League games, and Montana and Oregon can, but don't, offer limited sports wagering.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said New Jersey's push to legalize sports books is a response to increased competition from casinos in Pennsylvania.

"Their core business has been slot machines," Schwartz said. "That monopoly no longer exists. They need something else."

Schwartz cited the demand for sports betting, continued illegal sports gambling, and the need for revenue as reasons Congress would pass LoBiondo's bill.

"For me, it's a logical development," he said.

LoBiondo agreed, saying that legalizing sports betting would "strengthen Atlantic City in the face of stiff competition, giving it an edge to attract visitors and critical tourism dollars."

He said New Jersey has been "clear about its intent to host sports betting."

In the past two years, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed sports betting legislation. Also, a statewide referendum to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and racetracks passed by a 2-to-1 margin. Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation designed to challenge the federal ban in federal court but the state has yet to sue to challenge the act.