Bid to get sportsbetting into Atlantic City casinos


RIP Brian
Feb 22, 2001

New proposal seeks to legalise wagering on professional athletics - and the horse racing business wants in too

New Jersey legislators added to America's plethora of confusing gambling laws this week by proposing a bill that would legalise betting on professional sporting events....but only at Atlantic City licensed land casinos.

New Jersey Assemblymen Nelson Albano, Louis Greenwald, John Burzichelli, and Paul Moriarty sponsored the proposal to pave the way for Atlantic City casinos to take bets, and the bill cleared its first hurdle by passing through the General Assembly by 58-17 votes with one abstention.

"There are multiple dividends for New Jersey if sports gambling were to be provided at Atlantic City's casinos," said Albano. "Atlantic City's casinos again lost out as bettors flocked to Las Vegas [this year]. We need to ensure Atlantic City stays on the cutting edge and has a competitive advantage against the new wave of gambling offerings in other states."

The sponsors said Bill A1909 would help Atlantic City's casinos weather mounting gambling competition in other states and would help strengthen New Jersey's economy.

"Ever since its inception, Atlantic City's casinos have scored big for taxpayers, senior citizens, and residents with disabilities," said Greenwald. "Now, aggressive marketing campaigns from out-of-state gaming interests have become a real and present danger to Atlantic City. With one of the state's most important industries in the crosshairs, it is imperative that we seize this unique opportunity."

The lawmakers said the availability of legalized sports betting also would counteract illegal sports wagering enterprises that help finance other criminal activities in the state. In November, state Attorney General Anne Milgram announced the break-up of a $22 million illegal sports-betting ring operated out of a poker room at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

"Sports fans put billions of dollars on the line every year, regardless of its legality," said Moriarty. "A legal Atlantic City-based sports book would ensure bettors are not fleeced or put in harm's way."

The measure would allow New Jersey voters to decide whether the state should permit sports betting. Such a ballot question could appear on an election ballot as early as next November.

If approved by voters, licensed casinos would be able to accept in-person wagers solely on professional sports. Betting on amateur sports, such as collegiate football, would remain illegal. The bill makes the Casino Control Commission responsible for overseeing sports-betting activities.

In 1992, a federal law limiting sports gaming to Nevada was amended to give New Jersey and four other states an opportunity to approve sports betting, provided they acted prior to January 1, 1994. But the former Republican-controlled Assembly failed to put the question before voters in the November 1993 general election, and the deadline passed. As a result, Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana are the only states that legally can offer sports betting; only Nevada and Oregon actually provide such wagering.

The legislators said New Jersey has "decent odds" for successfully challenging the federal law in court and having it ruled unconstitutional, because the federal dictate infringes on states' rights and that the constitutionality of the federal law remains untested.

"If New Jersey could tap into even a fraction of the national sports book, the state would could generate millions of dollars in new direct revenues and economic dividends from increased tourism," said Greenwald. "It wouldn't be a revenue avalanche, but the betting opportunity would certainly strengthen Atlantic City's marketability and gambling hand."

The New Jersey Senate considers the proposal next, but one of the sponsors, John Burzichelli has already given notice that he intends to seek Senate amendments to the sports betting bill to allow in-person sport-betting at the state's three horse-racing facilities and include wagering on NCAA contests not involving teams from New Jersey colleges or universities.

"We have an opportunity [in Bill A1909] to utilize sports betting to help the state's horse-racing industry and further sharpen Atlantic City's competitive edge," said Burzichelli. "The Senate should grab this bill by the reins and expand it to protect all New Jersey gaming, whether in Atlantic City or at the racetrack."

Burzichelli said he would work to expand the bill to allow in-person pro-sports betting at New Jersey's three horse-racing tracks: Freehold Raceway, Monmouth Park, and the Meadowlands.

"Giving horse tracks a new revenue stream to bolster purses would ensure that top-tier racing horses continue to run in New Jersey and boost the financial security of the racetracks," said Burzichelli, adding that he will also seek to allow wagers to be placed on college athletics, excluding games featuring teams from New Jersey's colleges and universities.

The Assemblyman noted racetrack-based sports betting may require amending the state constitution, which currently limits gambling to Atlantic City's casinos. However, since the pro-sports legalization bill also would require voter approval, he said both questions could be put to voters on the same ballot.

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