Christie to advance sports betting regulations

The record of New Jersey Gov. Christie has come under fire recently from environmentalists. MEL EVANS / Associated Press
The record of New Jersey Gov. Christie has come under fire recently from environmentalists. MEL EVANS / Associated Press
Posted: May 26, 2012

After months of silence on the issue, Gov. Christie said Thursday that he was moving forward on regulations to install sports betting in Atlantic City casinos and at New Jersey’s racetracks.

The addition of sports gambling would "further enhance the experience of people in Atlantic City," the Republican governor told a Boardwalk crowd during a visit to tout Shore tourism. "I know it’s something people have been waiting for for a long time."

A ballot referendum to change New Jersey’s constitution to allow wagering on certain NFL and collegiate sports at the state’s casinos and racetracks passed 2:1 in November. The state Legislature moved swiftly to pass a measure to legalize the activity and Christie signed it into law in January, but the governor had taken little to no action since. This prompted criticism from some leading Democrats, including state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union) and people involved in the gaming industry to speculate that presidential politics might be involved. The New Jersey governor was a no-show in Atlantic City last week for a gaming industry conference in which he was the scheduled keynote speaker.

Critics contended that Christie, who may be in the running for vice president or another plum job in Washington, D.C., was avoiding both sports betting and Internet gaming out of fear that he would alienate some key conservative GOP donors — including his close friend, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. Christie has actively campaigned for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Christie said his administration was now formally submitting sports wagering regulations for public review, which is the next step in the process.

"I signed this bill into law because it is another way to continue to boost our casino and horse racing industries and encourage tourists to come to Atlantic City," he said.

Christie said he would try to put the new rules into effect by fall in defiance of the federal ban on sports betting, which limits the activity to four states: Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware.

The federal law, known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, must be overturned before New Jersey can get sports betting. Gaming legal experts say changing the federal law could take some time.

By moving forward, Christie could face a lawsuit from the U.S. Justice Department or the professional sports leagues, who sued Delaware three years ago when that state tried to offer more than parlay betting on NFL games.

"If someone wants to stop us, they’ll have to take action to try to stop us," Christie said in front of Resorts Casino. "I decided to authorize it.

“We intend to work with the casino industry here in Atlantic City and with the folks in the horse racing industry to get it implemented by this fall," he said. "I have every confidence that we’re going to be successful."

Christie said the regulations would be published in the New Jersey Register on July 2.A person or entity that wishes to offer sports wagering must obtain a "sports pool license" from a casino licensed by the state Casino Control Commission or a racetrack licensed by the New Jersey Racing Commission. The new regulations also stipulate that sports wagering takes place within a "sports pool lounge" located at a licensed casino or racetrack.

Fifty percent of the proceeds derived from license fees will be used to fund compulsive gambling treatment programs.

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 856-779-3844 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Amy Rosenberg contributed to this report.

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