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Nanny-State New Jersey vs. Big-Government Washington
By Jesse O. Kurtz
Does New Jersey have the right to allow sports betting, or can federal government usurp that right?
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed into law a federal ban on sports gambling. Former New Jersey Senator and NBA star Bill Bradley sponsored the bill. Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon were given exceptions, because they already allowed sports wagering; New Jersey was given until January 1994 to legalize it. But Christie Todd Whitman and Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian blocked the expansion, figuring that sports betting on the ballot during the 1993 governor’s race would motivate urban voters and effectively push incumbent Governor James Florio and the Democrats to victory. Mrs. Whitman and Mr. Haytaian won. Atlantic City lost.
Senator Jeff Van Drew has been a strong advocate of sports wagering since being elected as assemblyman in 2002. This year, Van Drew and Senator Raymond J. Lesniak have sponsored S-143, which, subject to voter approval, would permit in-person wagering at casinos on professional sports. Lesniak has even offered pro bono legal services to challenge the federal ban.
The legislature is out of session until the fall. S-143 currently is in the Senate Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, where Senator Jim Whelan is chairman. Its companion bill has passed the Assembly.
“Jeff Van Drew is the hero,” says V. George Amiriantz, Atlantic City resident and longtime supporter of legalized sports betting. Amiriantz, who testified before Whelan’s committee on the bill, wants a network of sports betting kiosks at age-restricted locations throughout Atlantic City. Under the plan, kiosks would be connected to one or more sports books inside casinos. Users would first obtain a membership and line of credit with the sports book. Winners would be required to return to the sports book for their winnings. “Somebody should stand up for Atlantic City restaurants,” Amiriantz maintains. “The kiosks will spread redevelopment around town.”
If the bill passes committee, Senate Majority Leader Richard Codey will have to post it for a vote by the whole Senate. Senator Codey controls what legislation is voted on in the Senate, and in exchange for posting the bill, he’s made it clear that sports wagering must extend to horse racing tracks. The senator’s cousin, Lawrence Codey, is a past New Jersey racing commissioner; his brother, Donald Codey, is general manager of Freehold Raceway. The casinos have already been coerced into subsidizing New Jersey horse racing to the tune of $176 million.
It’s hypocritical for sports betting to be illegal if you and I partake, but legal when government benefits from these activities through taxation. Hypocrisy notwithstanding, millions of dollars will be spent and thousands of people will be drawn to Atlantic City for sports wagering. Sports wagering will take Atlantic City to another echelon and continue its economic growth.
It is difficult to push back the tentacles of the federal government. History will offer a few laughs for those observing nanny-state New Jersey accusing the federal government of growing too large and intrusive. Some of us here in South Jersey will laugh, too, as we cheer on Trenton to legalize sports wagering in Atlantic City.