Beck: State ready to take on feds over sports betting – Tri

New Jersey officials are tired of waiting for federal legislation to lift a ban on sports betting, and state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) said the state is ready to move forward with sports betting in casinos and racetracks despite that federal ban.

In an interview, Beck said state officials are confident the federal ban would be overturned if the state is challenged on its decision to institute sports betting.

“I think the attorneys in the [state] Attorney General’s Office have studied this issue and they feel the federal law is probably unconstitutional,” she said. “You can’t prohibit or limit certain industry to certain states. I think there is a sense that the federal law won’t survive and that is why the governor has been so strongly advocating for (sports betting).”

The latest push for sports betting comes on the heels of statements made in recent weeks by Gov. Chris Christie, who has said publicly that New Jersey will have sports betting before year’s end.

Beck said the state has taken all of the necessary steps to set the stage for sports wagering.

“This is in some ways after the fact because the bill was signed into law, the referendum was passed by New Jersey voters and now the governor spent a little bit of time focusing on the issue,” she said. “New Jersey is going to move forward and wait for the federal government in essence to come and tell us we can’t. When they say we can’t, I am sure there will be a lawsuit that ensues.”

The federal government banned sports betting in 1992 and states were given a window of one year to legalize it. Officials in Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon chose to do so. Of the four states currently exempt, only Nevada has large-scale sports betting and the other three states currently have limited wagering.

Beck said studies have shown that sports wagering is a $500 billion business in Nevada and even more is bet each year illegally.

“I think it is not fair that Nevada is getting all this revenue and New Jersey has a prohibition on taking advantage of what is a very successful commerce,” she said.

A study by Nevada-based sportsbook Club Cal Neva projects that New Jersey would see $1.3 billion in gross revenues and an additional $120 million in tax revenues if sports betting is legalized.

In 2011, New Jersey voters overwhelmingly supported a nonbinding referendum, with almost two-thirds of voters saying they support legalizing sports betting at casinos and race tracks in the state. In January, sports betting cleared another hurdle when state legislators approved a bill that would legalize the measure if the federal ban is lifted.

Under that legislation, which Beck cosponsored, Atlantic City casinos and race tracks across the state would be allowed to offer wagering on college and professional sports. However, the bill would prohibit wagering on any sporting event held in New Jersey and on any event in which a New Jersey college team participates, regardless of location.

Under the bill, the Casino Control Commission and the Division of Gaming Enforcement would regulate sports wagering.

Revenues collected from sports wagering would be subject to an 8 percent gross revenue tax, which is already in place for casino gambling.

Beck explained what the next step for sports betting would be.

“We really need the first person to step up to the plate and open up a sports book and then you have the federal government come in and shut them down and then the lawsuit would be filed,” she said. “We are looking for the federal government to take some action so we can open up a legal challenge.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) have sponsored legislation that would lift the federal ban, although neither bill has been put up for a vote on the floor yet.

Another hurdle for the state besides the federal ban is professional sports leagues and the NCAA, which oppose sports betting. Beck said the professional leagues have already testified against the state measure, but she said most of her colleagues did not buy into the testimony.

“I think we were all a little incredulous of their testimony, considering you have fantasy football leagues and fantasy baseball leagues and it gives the point spread in the paper and on the national news,” she said. “I don’t think the NFLhad a lot of credibility on the issue because they are already an organization allowing for sports betting by giving the point spread of the games. Fantasy football, in a lot of cases, is betting, and they are promoting and supporting that.”

Beck said Christie has indicated that half of the state revenue derived from sports betting would fund assistance programs to those with compulsive gambling problems.

She explained the driving force behind implementing sports wagering in the state.

“I think some of this is coming from the fact that Atlantic City was to be put on a level playing field with Las Vegas,” Beck said. “And the fact that there is this gambling going on in New Jersey right now, as we speak, and it avoids all taxation because it is illegal is a secondary reason.”

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