2012-06-07 / Front Page
Beck: State ready to take on feds over sports betting
OCEANPORT — New Jersey officials are tired of waiting for federal legislation to lift the ban on sports betting, and Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-11th District) said the state is ready to move forward with sports betting in casinos and racetracks despite a federal ban.
In an interview June 1, Beck explained that state officials are confident the federal ban would be overturned if the state were to bring a legal challenge.
“I think the attorneys in the [state] Attorney General’s Office have studied this issue and they feel that the federal law is probably unconstitutional,” she said. “You can’t prohibit or limit certain industry to certain states.
“I think there is a sense that the federal law won’t survive and that is why the governor has been so strongly advocating for it,” she added.
The latest push for sports betting comes on the heels of statements made in recent weeks by Gov. Chris Christie who has said publicly that the state would have sports betting before year’s end.
Beck said the state has taken all of the necessary steps to set the stage for sports wagering.
“This is in some ways after the fact because the bill was signed into law, the referendum was passed by New Jersey voters and now the governor spent a little bit of time focusing on the issue,” she said.
“New Jersey is going to move forward and wait for the federal government in essence to come and tell us we can’t,” she added. “When they say we can’t, I’m sure there will be a lawsuit that ensues.”
The federal government banned sports betting in 1992, and states were given a window of a year to legalize it. Only Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon chose to do so.
Of the four states currently exempt, only Nevada has large-scale sports betting and the other three states currently have limited wagering.
Beck said studies have shown that sports wagering is a $500 billion business in Nevada and even more is bet each year illegally.
“I think it is not fair that Nevada is getting all this revenue and New Jersey has a prohibition on taking advantage of what is a very successful commerce,” she said.
A study by Nevada-based sportsbook Club Cal Neva projects that New Jersey would see $1.3 billion in gross revenues and an additional $120 million in tax revenues if sports betting is legalized.
In November, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly supported a nonbinding referendum, with almost two-thirds of voters saying they support legalizing sports betting at casinos and racetracks in the state.
Support in Monmouth County was particularly strong with more than 64,000 supporters voting versus 28,000 opponents.
In January, sports betting cleared another hurdle when state legislators approved a bill sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20th District) that would legalize the measure if the federal ban is lifted.
Under Lesniak’s legislation, which Beck co-sponsored, Atlantic City casinos and racetracks across the state would be allowed to offer wagering on both college and professional sports.
However, the bill would prohibit wagering on any sporting event held in New Jersey and on any event in which a New Jersey college team participates regardless of location.
Under the bill, the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement would regulate sports wagering.
Revenues collected from sports wagering would be subject to an 8 percent gross revenue tax, which is already in place for casino gambling.
Beck explained what the next step for sports betting would be.
“We really need the first person to step up to the plate and open up a sports book and then you have the federal government come in and shut them down and then the lawsuit would be filed,” she said. “We are looking for the federal government to take some action so we can open up a legal challenge.”
Rep. Frank Pallone (D- 6th District) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd District) have also sponsored legislation that would lift the federal ban, although neither bill has been put up for a vote on the floor yet.
Another hurdle for the state besides the federal ban is the professional sports leagues and the NCAA, which oppose the sports betting.
Beck said the professional leagues have already testified against the state measure, but she said most of her colleagues did not buy into the testimony.
“I think we were all a little incredulous of their testimony considering you have fantasy football leagues and baseball leagues and it gives the spread in the paper and on the national news,” she said.
“I don’t think the NFL had a lot of credibility on the issue because they are already an organization allowing for sports betting by giving the spread of the games,” she added. “The fantasy football [league], in a lot of cases, is betting and they are promoting that and supporting that.”
Beck said the governor has indicated that half of the state revenue derived from sports betting would fund assistance programs to those with compulsive gambling problems.
She went on to explain the major driving force behind implementing sports wagering in the state.
“I think some of this is coming from the fact thatAtlantic City was to be put on a level playing field with Las Vegas,” Beck said. “And the fact that there is this gambling going on in New Jersey right now, as we speak, and it avoids all taxation because it is illegal is a secondary reason.”
With new operators in place at Monmouth Park, stakeholders have frequently said in recent months they plan to turn the track into a year-round destination.
Beck said because of the popularity of college and professional football if Monmouth Park operates a betting parlor it would be a boost to the racetrack.
“The popularity of football certainly surpasses that of horse racing and this would be a reason for people who follow football to go to the track,” she said. “It would help them generate business in what is their off-season.”