New Jersey Senate approves measure that could clear path for sports betting

Industries Associated Press

State lawmakers passed a measure that could clear the way for sports betting in New Jersey, aiming to boost the state's ailing casino and racetrack industries.

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The bill is the latest in a years-long effort to authorize sports wagering, a push that still faces legal challenges. The state Senate passed the measure on Tuesday.

Democratic State Sen. Raymond Lesniak authored the bill that partially repeals prohibition of sports betting.

"Atlantic City is hemorrhaging and our racetracks are bleeding and they need the boost in revenues that this legislation will provide," Lesniak said.

Supporters of the measure suggested it could help the state's gambling industry. Four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos have closed this year.

"People are betting with their local bookie, for the most part, except for Vegas. It's not a comfortable environment," said Dennis Drazin, an adviser to Monmouth Park Racetrack and a supporter of the effort. "So this would give the public the confidence and the ability to bet in a way that's not illegal. It would be a good thing for the country."

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The vote comes as Gov. Chris Christie is engaged in a legal battle with pro sports leagues and the NCAA over sports betting.

Professional sports leagues and the NCAA have objected to the practice.

The legal fight reaches back to 2011 when New Jersey voters approved the practice in a referendum. In 2012, the Legislature passed and the governor signed into law a sports wagering measure.

But the four professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued, seeking to halt the wagering, and U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp ruled that a 1992 federal law limiting sports gambling to four states was constitutional. Shipp issued an injunction to halt New Jersey from proceeding with the gambling.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on appeal.

Earlier this year Christie vetoed another bill that would have repealed the state's prohibitions against sports betting, but then seemed to reverse course, ordering the attorney general not to prosecute casinos and racetracks if they offered betting that was not regulated by the state.

The leagues criticized the move, calling the governor's effort a "blatant attempt to circumvent" the court's injunction. Shipp recently postponed oral arguments until Oct. 31.

The Assembly is expected to vote Thursday on the issue.

A spokesman for the governor declined to comment on the legislation.