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Amid March Madness, a renewed push for sports wagering in N.J.

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The Revel casino in Atlantic City.
The Revel casino in Atlantic City. - (Aaron Houston / NJBIZ)

Some 3.54 million people visited Las Vegas last March, the highest total of any month in 2013, according to a report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Sports wagering is a major driver for casino tourism, some say, and few events draw more action than the annual NCAA men's college basketball tournament, the bulk of which is played each March and appropriately dubbed, "March Madness."

With this year's tournament now underway, several state and local politicians are now renewing their push to bring sports wagering to New Jersey, touting economic benefits galore if the practice were to be legalized.

Having lost every appeal its made thus far to overturn a federal law halting the expansion of sports wagering into New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's administration filed a petition last month have the case be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joined by state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield), Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Northfield) and Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian, Senate president Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) took to the city's Irish Pub Wednesday to call on the high court to consider the state's case.

"If New Jersey had sports betting, March Madness would bring millions of dollars into Atlantic City and the state's economy," Sweeney said. "At a time of the year when the region's tourism could use a boost, the hotels and casinos would be filled. Restaurants and bars, like the Irish Pub, would be overflowing with people and the boardwalk would be filled with visitors. It's a flat out win for our state and we hope the Supreme Court will recognize that."

Officials referenced hotel occupancy rates put forth by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority which indicate that 98 percent of hotels were filled during last year's basketball tournament.

"There is no question that this time of year could transform Atlantic City if the courts would allow sports betting in New Jersey," Whelan said. "We are talking about thousands of people coming into the region for weeks. The benefit to Atlantic City in terms of jobs and revenue is about more than just legal briefs and court arguments, it's about the livelihood of an entire town."

Currently, only Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana are permitted to offer sports betting under federal law.

"Las Vegas is jammed this time of year, while Atlantic City struggles to draw people in during the cold days of winter and spring," state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) added. "We are urging the Supreme Court to not only take up the case, but to right this wrong. Why should Nevada get all the benefits of something that everyone in the country is doing one way or another? The court could strike a huge blow here for Atlantic City and New Jersey."

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Andrew George

Andrew George

Andrew George covers the Statehouse from NJBIZ's Trenton bureau. Born and raised in N.J., Andrew has also spent time as a reporter in D.C., Texas and Pa. His email is andrewg@njbiz.com and he is @AndrGeorge on Twitter.

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