Poll finds support for sports betting in N.J.

At the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, a visitor looks over baseball wagering info on the big screen.
At the Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, a visitor looks over baseball wagering info on the big screen. (SUZETTE PARMLEY / Staff)
Posted: August 23, 2012

A poll released Tuesday shows that 45 percent of New Jersey residents favor sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and the state's racetracks despite a federal law that prohibits it in all states but Nevada and three other states.

The poll showed support for Gov. Christie's decision to move forward with his plan to allow wagering on pro and college sports despite the federal ban.

Fifty-eight percent, up from 53 percent in September 2011, the last time a similar question was asked, favor having sports betting in general, not taking into account the federal ban.

"Although support is not overwhelming, these numbers suggest the public is cautiously behind the goal of moving forward with legalized sports betting," said Krista Jenkins, executive director of the PublicMind poll and a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

The federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 limits sports betting to Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware.

Voters approved a referendum proposal by a 2-1 ratio in November to amend New Jersey's constitution to allow sports betting on certain collegiate and professional sports. The state legislature passed a measure in January - signed into law by Christie - to license the tracks and casinos to offer the wider gambling.

In late May, Christie drafted regulations to have sports betting. But the NCAA and the pro leagues NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL, and NBA filed suit Aug. 7 in U.S. District Court in Trenton to stop New Jersey. The organizations contended the state was defying the federal ban.

Stephen D. Schrier, chairman of the gaming practice at Blank Rome L.L.P. in Princeton, said preliminary and permanent injunctions had been sought by the leagues, but the court had not entered any order yet. Now, the state officials named as defendants must respond to the complaint.

"Without any injunction, New Jersey could, if it chooses to, continue to finalize its regulations and plans for sports betting," Schrier said. "However, it would be proceeding at its own risk, knowing the case is pending."

Sports betting regulations were finalized by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement on July 2, and the comment period on the rules ends Aug 31.

Legal experts say no sports betting can begin in New Jersey until several things happen. The Division of Gaming Enforcement must review all potential operators, license them, and review, test, and approve sports-betting systems, among other things.

Those who champion having sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos say it has the potential of generating $200 million a year in new revenue at a time of fierce regional gambling competition. They say it will allow Atlantic City to offer what Las Vegas has had since the mid-1970s.

"The reality of sports betting is it's going to help," said State Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic), "but no one believes it will be the silver bullet. There is not one silver bullet to straighten everything out in Atlantic City.

"It will present a marketing opportunity, but it's not as strong as 1993, when we should have gotten it," he said.

The federal law had granted New Jersey a two-year window to adopt sports betting, but a bill never made it out of the legislature in 1993.

The statewide poll of 945 registered and unregistered voters found 53 percent of men and 38 percent of women endorsed moving forward on sports betting even with the federal ban in place.

Fifty-two percent of Republicans, 42 percent of Democrats, and 40 percent of Independents support sports betting.

Those who have been to a casino in the last year were more likely to support the activity than those who have not been to one recently. So were those who bet on sports in an office pool or some other informal gambling venue.

The poll was conducted from July 23 to 29, just before the suit by the sports organizations was filed.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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