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State Senate passes sports betting bill

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Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is moving ahead with his contingency plan despite the U.S. Supreme Court dismissing New Jersey's sports betting case.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is moving ahead with his contingency plan despite the U.S. Supreme Court dismissing New Jersey's sports betting case. - ()

The state Senate has overwhelmingly passed an alternative bill to bring sports betting to New Jersey casinos and racetracks, following Monday's setback at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), was approved Thursday in the chamber by a 38-1 vote. It must now go to the Assembly — and potentially to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk, though it’s unclear if Christie supports the measure.

The last remaining day on the state’s legislative calendar is Monday.

Lesniak, one of Trenton’s top advocates for legalizing sports wagering, introduced the bill Monday after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case tied to the state’s efforts to legalize the practice. The court denied requests filed by the Christie administration, state lawmakers and a thoroughbred horseman’s organization, all seeking to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

As a contingency, Lesniak’s new measure would repeal the state laws that make sports betting illegal at casinos and racetracks — laws that were in place before the enactment of the 22-year-old federal law, which bans the practice in all but four states. The proposal would effectively allow the venues to develop their own procedures for taking bets, rather than establishing a system regulated by the state.

The senator has cited the Justice Department’s argument that the 1992 law does not obligate New Jersey to leave in place any laws that prohibit the offering. Lesniak said the state “is free to repeal those prohibitions in whole or in part." 

And he is gambling that the Justice Department won’t intervene in that case, as it’s doing with its hands-off approach to recreational marijuana sales in Colorado and Washington.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for the NCAA and the four major professional sports leagues, which challenged a 2012 state law that would allow Garden State casinos and racetracks to take wagers on athletic events.

The state has argued the law is unconstitutional, but has been turned aside by judges at several levels, including a federal appeals court in September.


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