New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicted Atlantic City’s casinos will have sports wagering by next NFL season and in doing so, appeared ready to challenge a federal law.
Christie made his bold comments Thursday on the Boardwalk to open the tourist season in Atlantic City.
Currently, federal law—the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act—bars all but four states from accepting sports bets. And only Nevada can offer the full range of sports wagering.
Christie’s plan, according to published reports, is to offer a set of regulations for sports wagering, but not attempt to overturn the 1992 federal law that, interestingly, was championed by a New Jersey U.S. senator, Bill Bradley.
Instead, it appears that Christie will brace for a federal challenge to stop New Jersey casinos and race tracks from operating sports books. And if history is any indicator, the government will have company in the form of the NFL, the NCAA and, perhaps other sports leagues.
“We intend to go forward,” Christie is reported as telling his Atlantic City audience. “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,” Christie continued. “But I have every
confidence we’re going to be successful.”
In the fall, a non-binding referendum that amounted to a poll on sports betting saw New Jersey voters say yes to sports wagering by a 2-1 margin. The state legislature passed a sports betting law, and the governor signed it. The law would permit the casinos and four racetracks to take sports bets.
It’s uncertain whether the casinos will invest in building sports books and the technology to run them with a federal challenge likely. In Delaware a few years ago, the casinos did exactly that—invest in sports books— and at the last minute, a federal appeals court victory for the NFL and other sports organizations scaled back significantly the type of sports wagering the casinos would be able to offer.
Tropicana CEO Tony Rodio liked Christie’s message but he may have in mind the experience of those Delaware casinos.
“I love the idea of playing offense and having the federal government have to play defense against us,” Rodio said.
“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.”
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who has championed both sports wagering and Internet gambling in New Jersey, welcomed a legal challenge.
“To those with a vested interest in the status quo—the professional sports organizations who take a hypocritical stance that wagering will ‘ruin the purity of the game,’ and the Nevada-based gaming conglomerates that have enjoyed that state’s stranglehold on sports wagering for the last 20 years—I respectfully say,
‘Bring it on,’” Lesniak said in a statement
Christie was more quiet on the issue of Internet gambling. He vetoed an Internet gambling bill last year but changes in the position of the Department of Justice had Christie sounding more favorable toward online gaming.