Sports betting getting bumped to New Jersey's back burner
New Jersey’s expected court case challenging the 1992 federal law prohibiting unfettered sports betting everywhere in the United States except Nevada is progressing with all the speed of the lines at Disney World.
Four months ago, voters overwhelming gave the state the mandate to go ahead with the case.
Two months ago, state lawmakers passed legislation enabling sports betting as soon as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned, either in Congress or the courts.
Since then? Crickets.
Sen. Raymond Lesniak, an uber optimist, has met with N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and says that the state’s court challenge will take place sooner rather than later.
“I was told by the end of the month,” said Lesniak in an email to Covers.com this past Thursday, though he didn’t indicate which month. “I don’t know if it will be a court filing or publishing of regulations that would force the Justice Dept. to go to court to enjoin.”
So what’s the hangup? Politics?
While the challenge would be handled by N.J. Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Chiesa, understand that Chiesa takes his cues from Christie. Christie has endorsed and is the most prominent surrogate for Mitt Romney and may not feel comfortable leading the charge for sports betting until Romney has a lock on the Republican nomination.
That could come April 24, after the Pennsylvania primary when the only other credible candidate, Rick Santorum, could be kicked to the curb. Some believe that Christie is fudging when he says he’s not interested in becoming Romney’s VP candidate (he would play bad cop to Romney’s good cop) and that could even further muddy the waters on the court challenge.
But Joe Brennan Jr., president of the Interactive Media and Entertainment Gaming Association, says that the delay in filing the court challenge paperwork could simply be a matter of Chiesa’s office being overworked.
“They have to vet some judges,” said Brennan, “and that takes time. A couple of nominations have been shot down, which adds to the workload.”
Lisa Spengler, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, confirmed that sports betting is not on the front burner, referring us to a months-old statement from the DGE which read in part, “The Division of Gaming Enforcement is poised and ready to take whatever steps are necessary to effectuate sports wagering in Atlantic City.”
But one person close to the scene who asked not to be identified, said, “Christie doesn’t have a choice in this matter. The voters have spoken. If he doesn’t act, there are going to be a lot of angry people in Atlantic City who are going to lose a lot of money.”
One of those angry people could be veteran state Sen. Stephen Sweeney, who has been pro-gambling for years and has worked hand-in-hand with Lesniak on legalizing sports betting. Sweeney is rumored to be interested in challenging Christie for the governor’s seat in 2013.
“If Christie won’t move forward on the sports betting challenge,” said the source, “Sweeney would hammer him across the head with the issue.”
Prof. I. Nelson Rose, perhaps the country’s leading authority on gambling and the law, told Covers.com in an email that New Jersey will eventually file the suit, and win. But …
“I expect the court will stay the decision pending appeal,” said Rose, “(and) the appeal will take two years. So my guess is 2015 or the end of 2016 at the latest before New Jersey has sports betting.”
Ouch. Those lines at Disney World seem a little bit faster now.