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sports betting

New Jersey Will Legalize Sports Betting, Federal Ban Be Damned

The Meadowlands Racetrack, future home of a sports book.

Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992, more or less banning sports betting in the United States. It's "more or less" because exceptions were allowed for four states: Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana. At the time, a one-year deadline was set by which other states wishing to be exempt could pass appropriate sports-betting laws. New Jersey, a state with plenty of casinos and racetracks, failed to exploit that loophole in time and has thus been subject to the federal ban ever since.

Well, now they're tired of it. At yesterday's news conference about the revitalization of Atlantic City, Governor Chris Christie announced that New Jersey would go ahead with plans to defy the federal ban and legalize sports betting in the state, effective sometime this fall. That effort has been going on for a couple years, culminating in a referendum last year in which voters supported legalized sports betting by a 2-1 margin (I was at my parents' house in Jersey at the time and distinctly remember my mother scoffing a lot, so I think she was part of that minority). A law permitting sports betting in Atlantic City casinos and the state's four horse racetracks was passed and signed by Christie earlier this year. Those involved claim that sports betting wouldn't necessarily be a direct financial boon to casinos — 50 percent of sports-betting revenue would be given to treatment programs for compulsive gamblers — but might simply draw more visitors to Atlantic City casinos, racetracks, and whatever other betting establishments the state has to offer (Passaic riverboat casinos?).

State legislators and casino folk alike know that the federal government isn't going to be thrilled with this decision, and they sound ready for battle. From that AP report, here's Christie himself:

"We intend to go forward," the Republican governor said. "If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us. We want to work with the casinos and horse racing industry to get it implemented.

"Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes," the governor said. "But I have every confidence we're going to be successful."

And here's a casino man, excited to fight the federal government in the name of a burgeoning Atlantic City, but understandably wary about plunging headlong into that investment as long as there's fear of the feds coming to shut him down:

"I love the idea of playing offense and having the federal government have to play defense against us," said Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, which owns the Tropicana in Atlantic City, as well as casinos in several other states. "But I don't know who's going to want to be the first to open knowing they can shut you down. We'd need a lot more clarity before we invested lots of money in a sports book."

And that's where things are right now. It all sounds vaguely like something I saw on TV, and my instincts tell me that Christie's best move would be to help conceal presidential candidate Warren G. Harding's mistress and illegitimate child from the public.

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Photo: Wikimedia