Measure would let New Jersey voters decide on sports wagering

The prospect of sports betting at Atlantic City casinos - and possibly New Jersey racetracks - is a decision that could go to voters following the state Assembly’s 58-17 vote in February in favor of a bill to put the issue on the ballot.

Sports betting is currently illegal in New Jersey, though efforts to legalize the activity have been bandied about for years. Currently, federal law limits sports betting or sportsrelated lotteries to four states: Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware. Proponents of legalizing sports betting in New Jersey have said it could help the state offset increased newer gaming competition from nearby states, and provide an additional funding stream for state coffers.

The measure still has to get past the state Senate. If it can pass the muster there, the bill would be signed into law and the issue placed on this November’s ballot.

“The people of New Jersey deserve at least a chance to vote on this issue,” said Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, one of the bill’s sponsors.

The New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association initially came out against the bill, prompting the bill’s sponsors to promise to amend the measure to find a way to add sports betting to horse tracks as well. But the bill still has a significant challenger in the National Football League, which has been adamantly against wagering on sports - even taking a somewhat stand-offish nature against Las Vegas, where betting pulls in millions of dollars a year.

But the biggest obstacle remains the federal ban on sports betting.

State Sen. Jim Whelan said in a statement that the federal ban “won’t go away just by our passing a bill in the Statehouse.”

New Jersey would either have to lobby Congress to repeal the federal ban or challenge it legally as an issue of states’ rights.

“I believe New Jersey voters would support having state-regulated sports betting in casinos, but I don’t want to create false hopes,” Whelan said.