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Poll indicates broad support for sports betting in N.J.

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Even though the state faces a federal ban of the practice and a lawsuit by professional sports leagues, a new poll suggests New Jersey residents want to give sports betting in casinos and racetracks the green light.

"Voters overwhelmingly approved my referendum, so I would also expect them to challenge the federal ban in a poll," said state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union). "Their support has helped us get where we are now today, but in terms of the competitive arguments we make in federal district court, I don't believe this will impact the judges' decision."

The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found 58 percent of the 945 residents surveyed endorse sports wagering in the state regardless of a federal law prohibiting it — an increase in five percentage points from a September 2011 poll asking a similar question. Asked if New Jersey should permit the practice even if federal law prevents it from doing so, or if the state should wait until Congress lifts the federal ban, 45 percent of respondents said the state should allow it, while 38 percent said it should wait.

"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 PublicMind Poll, in a statement.

While Jenkins noted a "double-digit point difference" between casino-goers and nongamers in favor of the state moving forward on sports betting, 41 percent of residents who haven't been to a casino in the past year still support the practice, as well as 42 percent of those who don't place bets in informal settings like an office.

Dennis Drazin, an attorney who heads the group operating Monmouth Park, noted the nonbinding referendum spearheaded by Lesniak passed by a 2-1 ratio in November, revealing an even greater number of voters supporting the practice than the poll showed.

"I think if everybody was honest and took a poll, we would figure out people in New Jersey are already betting on sports illegally," Drazin said. "Still, I think I'm the only one looking to go forward on this, so I don't think this public support really changes anything."

But Lesniak said the all of state's casinos and racetracks are "100 percent behind sports betting" and he urged them to begin taking bets when the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA filed suit against the state earlier this month. However, he noted barriers to his plan include the court issuing an injunction while the case is proceeding and casinos in New Jersey also having licenses in Nevada, where collecting sports bets already is legal.

"I don't expect this issue to be resolved quickly. Casinos with licenses in other states have to be concerned, because Nevada can use that against them," Lesniak said. "But for the New Jersey-based casinos, we expect if we're able to have sports betting while this case is being litigated, they can take advantage of the potential revenue boost and attract more tourists, who obviously support this."

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