New Jersey legislature OKs bill to legalize sports betting

New Jersey legislature OKs bill to legalize sports betting
The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The New Jersey legislature gave its final approval Thursday to a bill to legalize sports betting three weeks after winning the right to do so in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

But when the wagering can begin and the money start changing hands is anyone’s bet: The bill is now with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, whose office won’t say when he might act on it.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a fellow Democrat, asked the owner of Monmouth Park racetrack, “Are we betting on it tomorrow? We’re counting on it.”

But the governor’s office was non-committal.

“He said he wants to act quickly, but the legislation will be subject to the same thorough review that all legislation sent to him for signature is subject to,” said his spokesman, Dan Bryan.

Three weeks ago, New Jersey prevailed in a Supreme Court case that struck down a federal law limiting sports betting to just four states. Now, any state is free to adopt laws legalizing it, and analysts expect most to do so. A report this week by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming predicted that only six states will not have approved sports betting by 2023.

Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who led the fought for sports betting for eight years, predicted it will help turn around Atlantic City, where casino gambling had been in decline. The state’s casinos and racetracks would be able to offer sports betting once the governor signs the bill.

“Today is the day that New Jersey gets the same benefits that Las Vegas does,” he said. “During the Super Bowl or the NACC Tournament, in Las Vegas you can’t get a hotel room and Atlantic City is a ghost town. This will change that.”

Monmouth Park Racetrack has been particularly vocal in its desire to begin taking bets on Friday, hoping to cash in on anticipated large racing crowds this weekend. Lesniak predicted the track will start taking bets at 5 p.m. Friday, assuming the bill is signed by then.

The bill would allow Atlantic City casinos and racetracks, including Monmouth, the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway, to offer sports betting. A provision also would allow it at the former Atlantic City Race Course if that facility were to reopen.

The bill set the tax rate for casinos at 8.5 percent, with an additional 1.25 percent payment to help market Atlantic City. The 1.25 percent add-on fee for tracks would be split among the host community and the county in which the track operates. Internet bets would be taxed at 13 percent.

Internet betting would begin 30 days after the rest of the law takes effect.

The measure also is full of clauses that would help at least four casinos offer sports betting even though they or their owners have ownership ties to professional sports teams. It would benefit the Borgata and three casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment.

The bill would ban casinos or executives who own professional sports teams from offering sports betting, theoretically counting out Borgata owner MGM because it also owns the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. But under a clause in the bill, MGM would be approved because the team generates less than 1 percent of its total annual revenue.

Joshua Harris owns the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils and would get in under a clause allowing those who own less than 10 percent of a casino or gambling company to participate in sports betting. Harris’ Apollo Global Management owns less than 10 percent of Caesars Entertainment, which in turn owns Harrah’s, Caesars and Bally’s.

A clause to allow the Golden Nugget to participate was added to the bill Thursday. That casino is owned by Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who also owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets. He could offer sports betting on all sports except basketball.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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