Making the News

Press of Atlantic City

Originally Published:Friday, January 25, 2008

Casino analyst Joseph Weinert, from the Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group, said Las Vegas took in about $76 million last year from sports wagering. Based on a similar 2.4 percent of gross gaming revenue, Weinert estimated Atlantic City casinos would take in $118 million. He said that would translate into an additional $9.5 million in taxes.

He also said the resort would see extra nongaming revenue around big events such as the Super Bowl.

But he warned about unforeseen consequences of overturning federal law. If voters reject it, that could place resort casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other states. Similarly, it could open the door to sports wagers in states already encroaching on Atlantic City gamblers.

Assembly panel OKs sports-bet proposal

By DEREK HARPER, Statehouse Bureau, 609-292-4935
Press of Atlantic City

TRENTON - An Assembly committee took another crack at legalizing sports betting in New Jersey casinos Thursday, while an attorney with the National Football League sharply criticized the plan.

The bill would ask New Jersey voters to approve a referendum to allow casino patrons to bet on professional sports in resort casino sports-betting parlors. The wagering would be taxed like other casino games. It would exclude horseracing, college and high school matches, those involving amateur athletes and pro wrestling.

"If there is no moral problem, no social problem, why only include professional sports?" asked David H. Remes, outside counsel for the NFL.

He added afterward that the NFL opposes the plan because "it's bad for the image of the sport and it's bad to turn the players into roulette chips."

The Tourism and Gaming Committee approved the bill 8-0, and committee Chairman Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester, said he would ask Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., D-Camden, Gloucester, to schedule a Feb. 7 floor vote.

 But even bill supporters acknowledge New Jersey sports wagers are a long shot. If passed by voters, backers expect an immediate federal challenge under a 1993 law that limited sports wagers to Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.

Senate Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee Chairman James Whelan, D-Atlantic, said he supports sports betting but wondered how possible it would be with the current federal prohibition. He also did not know when the Senate version would be introduced.

In her comments, Casino Control Commission Chair Linda A. Kassekert said that aside from any federal challenges, sports betting needs a constitutional amendment to the Casino Control Act to be valid under state law.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, sponsored the bill when he served in the Assembly in 2004 and 2006 when it failed to get a floor vote in either house.

In testimony Thursday he said the federal government was overreaching by basing the ban on a section of the Constitution that allows Congress to regulate commerce between states. He asked how could it regulate a person in New Jersey who made a bet in person at a New Jersey casino?

He suggested a legal fight would reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where he thought the more conservative court would side with New Jersey's states' rights argument.

He also said it was hypocritical to oppose this while casual office pools and Internet gambling proliferate. Furthermore, it is costing the state tax revenue, he said.

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis D. Greenwald, D-Camden, agreed, adding that legal sports wagers would allow the state to tap into what he said is between $300 billion and $400 billion globally bet on sports. He also said it would save unspecified law enforcement funds that fight illegal gambling.

Opposition, he said, "is foolhardy, short-sighted and ultimately costing the state millions of dollars."

Casino analyst Joseph Weinert, from the Linwood-based Spectrum Gaming Group, said Las Vegas took in about $76 million last year from sports wagering. Based on a similar 2.4 percent of gross gaming revenue, Weinert estimated Atlantic City casinos would take in $118 million. He said that would translate into an additional $9.5 million in taxes.

He also said the resort would see extra nongaming revenue around big events such as the Super Bowl.

But he warned about unforeseen consequences of overturning federal law. If voters reject it, that could place resort casinos at a competitive disadvantage with other states. Similarly, it could open the door to sports wagers in states already encroaching on Atlantic City gamblers.

The final bill may also include provisions for the state's horseracing industry, after Republicans and horseracing advocates spoke out. These could include either allowing sports betting in horse tracks or using the proceeds to underwrite purses.

An $86 million purse supplement for the state's race courses expired at the end of last month. It came in 2004 in exchange for the tracks not seeking state approval for video lottery terminals. Officials have discussed reauthorization, but nothing has been agreed upon.

Committee members Alison Littell McHose, R-Sussex, Hunterdon, Morris and Ronald S. Dancer, R-Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, raised questions about tracks during the meeting, but eventually approved the bill with the majority.

To e-mail Derek Harper at The Press:

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