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Lesniak: 'Everybody's scratching their heads' on Christie sports betting veto

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak sponsored the sports betting bill.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak sponsored the sports betting bill. - ()

New Jersey's hopes of implementing sports betting at racetracks and in Atlantic City's casinos were dealt a major blow Friday, when Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill sponsored by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) that would allow the practice by deregulating it and circumventing the federal law prohibiting it.

Lesniak put the bill forward as an alternative means of ushering in sports wagering after being rebuffed by a federal appeals court and seeing the U.S. Supreme Court decline to hear the state’s case.

The bill, which Christie noted in his veto as a “novel attempt,” is “counter to our democratic traditions and inconsistent with the Constitutional values I have sworn to defend and protect.”

“While I do not agree with the Circuit Court’s conclusion, I do believe that the rule of law is sacrosanct, binding on all Americans,” Christie wrote. “That duty adheres with special solemnity to those elected officials privileged to swear an oath to uphold the laws of our nation.”

Christie added in his veto that there may still be other options for the state, but that there was no need to rush to find them.

“While I remain open to exploring legally sound ways to let the state’s casinos and racetracks offer sports wagering, I am mindful that this process takes time,” Christie wrote.

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On Monday, Lesniak said he’s still not sure why Christie, who supported the previous legal push to bring sports wagering to New Jersey, would veto his bill and at least not give it a shot.

“Everybody’s scratching their heads,” Lesniak said.

Lesniak said it would be “no harm, no foul” if the state decided to proceed with the bill only to find out later that it was in violation of federal law.

“Why not try it?” Lesniak said. “What’s the harm? What’s the governor afraid of?”

Now, according to Lesniak, the state is left with only two options if it ever wants a sniff at sports betting: a legislative override of Christie’s veto, or just waiting it out a few years until a new governor is in office.

The problem with an override is that although the bill received wide bipartisan support in reaching Christie’s desk, Lesniak said those same votes are never usually there a second time around after the governor has used his veto pen.

And waiting? Lesniak says that option “may very well be too late” to save the state’s casinos and racetracks, which he says are “both on life support.”

“They need help now,” Lesniak said. “Not three years from now.”


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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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c23 August 12, 2014 11:06 am

Bye bye AC.

Walter Helfrecht August 11, 2014 4:40 pm

There is something very wrong with the US Constitution's forbidding all but 4 western states from engaging in sports betting / gaming. I do not understand the justification of that nor why it was part and parcel of the admission of those 4 states to the Union.

The Governor's veto is standing on the same shifty ground that is used to reason away why marijuana should not be legalized (recreationally or medicinally); as we know, the medicinal marijuana bill in the state of NJ was passed, but the state is not getting much for its efforts, much less those who lobbied for it.

There is, however, NOTHING wrong with a union state making its own determination that a bad US Constitutional provision, or its selective enforcement, should be skuttled and ignored -- especially when it impedes that state's sovereign right to determine its own laws and its own destiny as a union state. This is called "nullification" and if the legislation is of such form that it conforms to the NJ Constitution, it needn't conform to the US Constitution unless it would seek to allow wagering across state lines. We have seen that on-line casino gaming can be limited to just within the boundaries of NJ. So, too, can the sports betting be so limited. The US Constitution has nothing to contribute to that arrangement at all.

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