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New sports betting bill heads to Christie's desk after passage by lawmakers

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Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is one of Trenton's top advocates for the bill.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) is one of Trenton's top advocates for the bill. - (AARON HOUSTON)

As state Sen. Raymond Lesniak puts it, the ball's in Gov. Chris Christie's court.

An alternative bill to bring sports betting to New Jersey casinos and racetracks is heading to Christie's desk after being overwhelmingly passed by the state Legislature Thursday. The Senate first approved the bill by a 38-1 vote, followed by a 63-6-2 in the Assembly.
 
With the legislative season winding down, lawmakers wasted little time three days after the state's two-year legal battle to legalize sports wagering came to an end. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme 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.

RELATED: State Senate passes sports betting bill
 
Lesniak, one of Trenton's top advocates in the fight, quickly introduced a contingency bill that would repeal the state laws that make it illegal for casinos and racetracks to take bets on athletic events — laws that were in place before the enactment of the 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.
 
After the bill's passage in the Legislature, Lesniak tweeted: "Assembly and Senate both passed my sports betting bill. Ball's in your court @GovChristie."
 
It's unclear, however, if Christie will support the bill. The governor, who had become a staunch proponent as the case made its way through the courts, said after Monday's Supreme Court's decision that getting the justices to hear the case was "always a long shot" and noted that it is perhaps time to "move on."
 
Lesniak, meantime, has cited the Justice Department's argument that the 1992 federal law does not obligate New Jersey to leave in place any statutes that prohibit the offering. Lesniak said the state "is free to repeal those prohibitions in whole or in part."

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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, the four major professional sports leagues and the U.S. Justice Department, which all lined up against the state in the high-profile case. The leagues and the federal government were challenging a 2012 state law that would allow Garden State casinos and racetracks to take wagers on athletic events.

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

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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