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N.J. ramps up its sports wagering effort

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New Jersey residents may be betting on sports events in the state as soon as the early fall, according to state officials.

The state Division of Gaming Enforcement published sports wagering regulations July 2, starting a 60-day public comment period that will end Aug. 31.

Following the review of public comments and a legal review, the rules allowing gaming could to go into effect in early fall, according to Lisa Spengler, a division spokeswoman.

But this comes with a major caveat, she said. The federal government or the professional sports leagues may act to block the gaming expansion.

Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), who sponsored sports gaming legalization, said he doesn't expect the federal government to act until after bets are placed in the state. He added that sports leagues' opposition would be irrelevant.

"The governor is behind this effort, the Legislature is behind this effort, our casinos and racetracks are behind this effort — so whatever they have to say is irrelevant and immaterial," Lesniak said. "We're going forward. We believe it's our right."

Monmouth Park representatives have indicated they would like to apply for a license to offer sports betting, and Lesniak said that site could become the first sports betting venue in the state.

Dennis Drazin, president of Monmouth Park operator, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said the track aims to be ready as soon as the rules are completed.

"We intend to be ready to go as soon as it's legally permissible," Drazin said.

Drazin said he agreed to Lesniak's request to be the first bettor.

"I appreciate Senator Lesniak's help," Drazin said. "He's been very instrumental in the sports wagering fight for several years now."

William Pascrell, a leading gaming lobbyist, said he expects "a couple of casinos" to have sports betting rooms prepared quickly. He expects the state to prevail against any federal or sports-league challenge. New Jersey is not one of the four states allowed to host sports betting under federal law, but state officials expect to challenge that federal restriction.

"We have a governor who is willing to fight for what's best for New Jersey," Pascrell said.

Pascrell added that it will be better for the state to have lawful sports betting than to continue to have illegal betting, and that the industry will create jobs to support the betting software and booking systems.

"It's being done already unlawfully and the fact that the NFL and others are threatening to shut this down is laughable," Pascrell said.

Lesniak said he volunteered to be the first person in the state to legally place a bet on a sporting event. He said his preference is to bet on the Giants against the Philadelphia Eagles, but would vote on whatever is the next eligible Giants game after the state rules are finalized. The Giants and Eagles play Sept. 30 and Dec. 30.

Lesniak also said he would like to see Gov. Chris Christie take steps to support online gaming in the state. Lesniak said casinos could close without new sources of revenue.

"I think we're missing the boat," and the state has already lost the chance for "a couple hundred million dollars," he said.

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