Legislation Moves Forward in New Jersey

A package of bills moved forward in the New Jersey legislature Nov. 22.

Legislation geared toward horse racing, Internet betting, and Atlantic City casinos moved closer to reality in New Jersey Nov. 22 as lawmakers voted to create big changes in the way people can gamble.

The state Senate approved measures include expanding off-track betting and setting up exchange wagering, a type of online betting popular in Great Britain in which two or more people place directly opposing wagers on the outcome of a horse race. Also Nov. 22, a Senate committee urged the legislature to allow voters to decide whether sports betting should be allowed at the state’s casinos and racetracks.

A resolution passed by the Senate Economic Growth Committee calls for a referendum to be held in November 2011 in which voters would decide whether to allow gambling on professional sports games. A federal ban on sports betting in all but four states would have to be overturned first.

Only Internet betting by New Jersey residents and people from foreign countries would be permitted. “Sophisticated software” on servers housed in Atlantic City casinos would make sure only those two categories of gambler would be able to place bets, Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak said.

Lesniak said revenue from sports betting could help New Jersey racetracks stay alive. He read a text message a friend of his sent him recently from Delaware, where limited sports betting is legal at the state’s three racetracks.

“At Delaware Park Sports Book on way to Eagles game,” the message read. “Oh boy, N.J. is missing out! You gotta get it in N.J. Packed house at 10a.m. Sunday.”

Lesniak is suing the federal government to overturn a ban on sports betting on constitutional grounds—mainly that it fails to treat all states equally. New Jersey was offered a chance to allow sports betting in 1991 but failed to do so.

Both houses of the legislature approved a bill that would allow a casino to open with as few as 200 hotel rooms, down from the current 500-room minimum, and about a tenth of the 2,000 rooms that the city’s most successful casinos offer. The bill also provides for a second new casino to open with 200 rooms and expand to 500 rooms within five years.