How New Jersey Could Have Had Sports Betting

How New Jersey Could Have Had Sports BettingSince 2011, New Jersey has been running itself ragged attempting to legalize sports betting at casinos and racetracks in Atlantic City. They’ve taken their case to every level of court in the US, and are now awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court of the United States on whether or not their case is worthy of being heard by the highest court in the nation. Not only has the state been sued twice now, but they have spent millions of dollars in legal fees trying to bring sports betting to their state.

Which is pretty ironic, seeing as New Jersey had the chance to legalize sports betting back in 1993.

It gets even worse when you realize that it was their own Senator who implemented the ban in the first place.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, more commonly referred to by its acronym PASPA, is the federal ban that prevents 46 states, including New Jersey, from being able to regulate sports betting. This law is also sometimes called the Bradley Act, after Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat from New Jersey. He is the bill’s sponsor and partially responsible for New Jersey not being able to have sports betting.

Bill Bradley, an athlete himself, came up with the legislation because of his concern for how players might be treated if sports betting grew. “I think of athletes as persons. I don’t like them to be turned into roulette chips.”

While it was Bradley who is responsible for bringing PASPA to life, the real blame for Atlantic City’s death via lack of sports betting falls a little closer to home. There was a referendum made to the federal ban that gave New Jersey one year to pass sports betting legislation, which would make them fully exempt like Nevada. Immediately, though, the ability to present sports betting legislation became a polarizing topic amongst state politicians.

The state Senate was able to create legislation and pass a bill in the fall of 1992, which then went to the Assembly. It was sent to a committee, chaired by an Assembly member who had stated that sports betting was “bad public policy.” As you know, the bill subsequently died. The Senate then passed another bill in the summer of 1993, and again, it was sent to the same committee, chaired by the same biased individual, and kept there. Assembly members opposed to sports betting then ran the clock out and now, New Jersey doesn’t have sports betting.

Was it because the Senate proposed bill wasn’t good enough?

Of course not. It was a matter of playing a political game. In 1992 and 1993, the Assembly was held by Republican leadership. 1993 was an election year, and Republicans feared that they would not only lose the assembly but also the gubernatorial race. Republican campaign advisor Webster Todd Jr. gave sworn testimony years after the fact that “Republicans believed a sports betting referendum could hurt them and actively tried to avoid it.”

Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian, the Assembly Speaker, had the option to bring the bill to the Assembly for a full vote despite it being stuck in committees. But Haytaian refused. “If a bill doesn’t come out of committee, it doesn’t go to the floor.”

Assembly members on both sides pleaded with the Speaker to bring the bill out for a vote. Nicholas Ribis, chairman of the Casino Association, said “sports betting is the single most important issue for the industry at this time. If it’s not passed, we will never be able to compete.” Despite best efforts, the bill was killed off and New Jersey was unable to join Nevada in offering single-game wagering.

Haytaian denied that there were any political motives behind his actions, but many believe that it was his deliberate attempts to bury the bill, not once but twice, that won the election for Republican gubernatorial candidate Christie Whitman. “This was a purposefully political decision,” said Raymond Lesniak, a State Senator in New Jersey since 1983. “Chuck Haytaian was a political genius. In my opinion, it won the election.”

Assembly Republicans played a dangerous game in 1993 and won – but at what cost? Denying casinos and racetracks in the state the ability to offer sports betting essentially bankrupted their most lucrative piggy bank. “New Jersey took advantage of casino gaming for several decades,” said Robert Torricelli, a former US Senator. “The state reaped the benefits but never wanted to make an investment.” They’re now paying for their poor choices in more ways than one.

New Jersey relied too heavily on the fact that they had the only major casino city east of the Mississippi. Now, surrounding states have built bigger, better casinos and racetracks that can offer much higher purses for race contestants. Atlantic City is not nearly the tourist attraction it was and has been losing money hand over fist for some time now.

NJ’s lengthy court battles have been their attempt to help the floundering casino and racetrack industries. SCOTUS is expected to make their decision on the Christie vs. NCAA case public on June 26th. If the case is denied a hearing, New Jersey will have exhausted their final chance for legal sports betting. And they’d have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the state senators? They each have their own opinions on what went down in Trenton almost 25 years ago. “It was a missed opportunity,” said Robert Torricelli, ever the career politician. Frankly, though, believes it was Robert Lesniak who summed up what everyone was thinking perfectly. “It was a huge mistake.” That it was, Senator. That it was.