Sen. Ray Lesniak is introducing a new effort to legalize sports betting in N
Legal Sports Report

Will New Jersey Go ‘Nuclear’ On Sports Betting Law? NJ State Senator Eyes Full Repeal Of Prohibition

NJ sports betting
New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak said he isn’t waiting to find out what the US Supreme Court will do in the ongoing NJ sports betting case. He’s already looking at a new path toward having sports betting in the Garden State.

A full repeal on sports betting in NJ?

This week, the lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate announced his intention to introduce new legislation to allow sports betting within the state’s borders. (The bill does not yet appear on the NJ legislative website.) The legislation would aim to repeal the prohibition on sports betting in its entirety in New Jersey.

New Jersey has attempted on two occasions to partially repeal its own laws in regards to sports betting, allowing the activity in casinos and racetracks. Federal courts to date have ruled it cannot do this as violative of PASPA. That’s the federal law that prohibits single-game wagering outside of Nevada sports betting.

The Supreme Court is expected to announce on Monday whether it will grant an appeal, something that is perhaps not likely but possible.

Lesniak’s bill would effectively allow almost anyone to offer sports betting in New Jersey outside of gaming regulations. Such a move would more likely be to force action on the federal level than to create what amounts to sportsbooks all over the state into perpetuity.

The bill, apparently, would offer some regulation, per Lesniak, just not under the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Lesniak’s sports betting gambit

The senator made the announcement about his legislation on Facebook; here is some of what he said:

I decided not to wait for the US Supreme Court to decide if my legislation repealing NJ’s laws against sports betting at casinos and racetracks violates federal law (PASPA) and will introduce tomorrow legislation to repeal all NJ laws against sports betting.

My sports betting ally, Assemblyman Caputo, and I will begin a campaign to get legal sports betting for New Jersey in time for the start of the professional football season or at least for the Super Bowl.

The new industry, which will generate thousands of jobs and more than a hundred million tax revenues for the state treasury has already been approved in by the US Court of Appeals in its decision to reject my legislation because it was limited to casinos and racetracks.

Sports betting will be regulated and overseen by our Office of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Treasury, the federal Bank Secrecy Act, the IRS and local zoning laws applicable to all business activity.

More from GamblingCompliance (paywall) with Lesniak:

“This is the last card I have left, and I decided to play it,” said Lesniak, a Democrat who will retire from the New Jersey state Senate at the end of the year.

“I want to send an indirect message to the Supreme Court, and I want to send a direct message to the NFL (National Football League).”

Is there a will for a full repeal?

There are myriad reasons why lawmakers in New Jersey may not do this, some of which I touched upon the last time the ‘nuclear’ option came up:

  • Even if the bill limits how and where sports betting takes place, it sets up something far less than the regulated market that exists in Nevada, the UK and other jurisdictions in Europe and around the world. It’s not clear how many lawmakers would actually get behind this sort of psuedo-regulation of sports gaming in the state.
  • New Jersey residents expressed their distaste for an expansion of gaming in the state when it rejected casinos in North Jersey via a referendum in 2016. This bill would set up an even bigger expansion of gaming in the state.
  • Atlantic City is in the midst of a rebound. Does anyone want to upset that trend? The law would mean AC casinos could offer sports betting. But NJ residents could also bet on sports anywhere else the law allows. The full economic impact wouldn’t go to casinos.

And there’s one other big problem.

Even if the new sports betting law passes…

New Jersey is almost certainly going back to court if the bill becomes law.

New Jersey may have a much better legal case with the nuclear option than it did with the previous partial repeals. But make no mistake about it: the NFL, NBA et al — the plaintiffs in the current NJ sports betting case — will find a way to challenge this, as well.

If New Jersey really wants to force the leagues’ hand and force Congressional action on PASPA, it would just do the full repeal, and nothing else, and watch everyone squirm.

That, of course, is even less likely to happen politically. But it would undoubtedly create quick momentum for a repeal of PASPA.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.