Lawmakers renew bid to bring pro sports betting to Atlantic City

Trenton, New Jersey – New Jersey legislators on Thursday revived an effort to legalize betting on professional sports in Atlantic City casinos, rejecting claims by the National Football League that the move would risk the integrity of sports.

An Assembly committee pushed forward legislation that would ask voters to allow casinos to offer professional sports wagering.

Proponents of sports betting in New Jersey estimate the state might bring in up to USD 8 million annually in additional casino tax revenue and boost visitors to Atlantic City casinos now competing with slots parlors in neighboring states.

„Sports betting already exists in New Jersey, but only the criminals are enjoying the profits,“ said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, the committee chairman. „Legal, carefully regulated sports wagering would bolster both Atlantic City and the state. New Jersey should go all-in.“

Various estimates of illegal sports gambling in the U.S. range from USD 80 billion to USD 380 billion per year.

Similar measures were approved by Assembly committees in 2004, 2005 and 2006 but never received further consideration.

But the dynamic may have changed this year, with two leading supporters moving from the Assembly to the Senate. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who chairs the Senate wagering committee, and Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, vowed Thursday to push the law in the Senate.

But the NFL vowed to fight the proposal, which can now be considered by the full Assembly.

„It’s bad policy because it turns human players into roulette chips with the sanction of the state,“ said NFL attorney David H. Remes.

Bills passed the Senate in 1992 and 1993 that would have allowed sports betting in New Jersey, but never passed the Assembly.

After that, federal law restricted legalized sports betting to Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon, though only Nevada enables betting on professional and college games.

Assembly Budget Chairman Lou Greenwald said the federal law can be challenged as a violation of states‘ rights, but Senate President Richard J. Codey isn’t confident.

„I think Appalachian State would have to beat the Giants before the federal government would allow us to change the law to permit sports betting in casinos,“ said Codey, D-Essex. „That’s about where our odds stand right now.“

The renewed effort comes as Atlantic City’s casinos recorded the first decline in gambling revenue since they opened in 1978. The 11 casinos took in USD 4.9 billion last year, down from USD 5.2 billion in 2006. The decline was blamed on slots parlors in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York drawing away customers.

Joseph Corbo, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, said the casinos „heartily support“ the legislation.

„It has been a tough year for our industry,“ he said. „We appreciate the fact that you’re taking this effort, the heavy lift that it is, to help our industry out.“

Joseph Lupo, vice president of operations for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, predicted $ 800 million would be wagered on pro sports in Atlantic City each year.

He noted how the looming Super Bowl weekend is a huge event in Las Vegas, but not Atlantic City. Bettors in Nevada wagered USD 93.1 million on the Super Bowl last year.

„We have to become a more full destination that’s going to compete,“ Lupo said.

But Remes warned legalized betting on pro sports could inadvertently increase illegal gambling.

„New bettors will quickly learn that the state doesn’t offer odds that are as good as bookies,“ he said. „Or, tax-free winnings.“