Last week's New Jersey.com plea to legalise Internet betting by online gambling consultant and former lawman Frank Catania has been followed by a more direct approach to such an initiative. As New Jersey land gambling feels the chill winds of competition from neighbouring states and the effects of the recession, Democratic Senator Raymond Lesniak has given notice of his intention to sue the federal government in a bid to overturn a 17-year-old ban on sports betting.
The Senator, who has been active for some time in campaigning for an expansion of gambling to grow state revenues, seeks another source of cash for New Jersey at a time of severe economic pain, with Atlantic City revenues on an ever-steeper decline (see previous InfoPowa reports). He plans to file his suit in a federal district court within the next two weeks, he confirmed to New Jersey.com.
The suit represents a serious and innovative challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, and adds to increasing pressure in several states for a more practical approach to gambling, and a major push against the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act which is being challenged by new legislative proposals from Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
"Billions of dollars are being bet offshore through the Internet or through organized crime, and those are revenues that could be going to New Jersey," Lesniak told New Jersey.com. "People are doing it. They're doing it every day. They're doing it for the NCAA tournament. They're doing it for the Super Bowl and professional football. But we can't regulate it and run it in the state of New Jersey, and that's just unfair."
In Lesniak's view, sports betting should be permitted not only in Atlantic City's casinos, but at the state's three ailing horse-racing tracks, at off-track betting locations.... and over the Internet.
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which went into effect in 1992, is Lesniak's target. At the time, four states already had laws on their books allowing sports betting. Those states - Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware - were exempted, though betting is conducted only in Nevada at present (there are new moves in Delaware to legalise sportsbetting too - that could be a devastating development for New Jersey).
New Jersey law makers turned down an offer to be part of these "exempted" states in 1993.
Lesniak said he also plans to introduce legislation in the Senate and sponsor a constitutional amendment to permit sports wagering. He claims that sports betting will be a boon for the Garden State's casinos, racetracks and bottom line, and says his research suggests that New Jersey could take in more than $100 million a year from sports betting, based on the state's 8 percent tax imposed on gaming revenues.
Politicians' projections on gambling-related tax revenues are usually and notoriously wide of the mark, and gaming analyst Joseph Weinert, a senior vice president with Spectrum Gaming Group, characterises Lesniak's revenue forecast as wildly optimistic.
"New Jersey would have to be the only place in the world with sports betting to achieve that number," Weinert said.