Christie legacy gets a boost from sports betting ruling

Whatever the odds were, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's bet on legalized sports wagering paid off.

The Supreme Court's decision to allow sports betting in New Jersey and other states gives the former Republican governor a long-sought victory and a chance to redefine his legacy.

His reputation was at a low point when he left office in January. It had been battered by the slow-developing Bridgegate scandal, the politically motivated lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in 2013 that led to the criminal convictions of three former allies.

The Democrat who would succeed him mockingly said Christie's biggest triumph had been "a traffic jam."

But on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy had only praise for the onetime presidential candidate and current ABC news commentator, saying the victory would not have been possible without the efforts of the former governor along with those of a former Democratic legislator.

It was an undeniable win for Christie, who earned national attention and acclaim for his leadership after Superstorm Sandy devastated the state in late 2012, only to see his political standing undermined a year later when the bridge scandal broke, despite no evidence he had a direct role in what happened.

He spent six years pushing for legalization of sports betting, in part to bolster the fortunes of beleaguered Atlantic City and its casino industry.

He had been one of the loudest champions of ending the prohibition of sports betting in most states under a 1992 federal law. The case before the court originated in New Jersey and bore Christie's name, although it was a Democratic state Senator, Raymond Lesniak, who first sued the federal government to try to overturn the law.

"While many experts told me to abandon this fight, we stuck with it," Christie said in his final address as governor in January after completing the maximum two terms in office.

He put a sports betting referendum on the ballot in 2011 and got the support of more than 60 percent of voters. The next year, after signing a law permitting wagering at casinos and racetracks, he was sued by the NFL, NHL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NCAA. They argued that expanding gambling would damage the integrity of their games.

In 2014, New Jersey took a different tack and repealed laws barring sports gambling at casinos and racetracks. The state argued taking the laws off the books was different from authorizing sports gambling. The state lost again and took the case to the Supreme Court.

Characteristically blunt, Christie tweeted Monday that "New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal Gov't had no right to tell them no."