New Jersey voters could weigh in on whether to allow legalized sports betting if lawmakers approve placing the question on November's ballot.
The Senate Economic Growth Committee last week held a public hearing on the initiative. Supporters would like to regulate gambling on sporting events since it would generate more money for the state and help support Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey's horseracing tracks.
The state's gaming industry has been hit hard by the recession, competition in neighboring states, and a declining interest in betting on horses, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union.
"Las Vegas Sports Consultants, a division of Cantor Gaming, estimates that New Jersey could see a $10 billion market for sports betting," he said last week during the hearing. "That would produce $600 million of revenue for our casinos and our racetracks and $60 million in direct revenue to the state and much more for our casinos, our racetracks, and our state from the added tourism as a result of legal sports betting."
Opponents point to the downside, including gambling addictions and financial stress to individuals and families. Professional athletic leagues have said placing bets on sporting events undermines the integrity of the games and matches.
If approved, SCR 49 would ask residents to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to legalize sports betting. While there is currently a federal ban on sports wagering except in certain states, changing New Jersey's constitution would set the stage for gaming there if Congress were to lift the federal restriction. An identical bill, ACR 98, sits in the General Assembly's Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee.
Currently, Nevada is the only state where individuals can place bets on sporting events. Oregon and Montana are also exempt from the federal ban, but do not permit such wagering. Delaware offers parlay betting, which involves placing a wager on two or more teams.
Lesniak filed suit last year in U.S. District Court to overturn the federal gaming restriction. He anticipates the case will be heard this fall.