Gov. Christie to allow betting on coming pro football season

May 29, 2012 3:00 AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may have ripped a couple pages from the playbook successfully used by Indian tribes in Florida and California when the tell-it-like-he-sees-it Republican governor said he will allow Atlantic City casinos to begin offering sports wagering during the coming football season.

What is he doing? I inquired of a politically sophisticated friend who replied, “Looks like he’s playing chicken with the feds.”

Which is what Florida’s Seminoles essentially did when they outfitted their Hard Rock casinos with table games that were at the time illegal and challenged state and federal authorities to do something about it.

The Indians won that one, as the world now knows, eventually negotiating a compact that allows table games.

Former Nevada Control Board chairman Mike Rumbolz termed Christie’s action a “smart move” in terms of the likelihood it will “move the ball forward.” Several states would like to add sports betting to the list of gaming options available in their states but have not been willing to risk a legal battle with opposition, which almost certainly includes the NFL and NCAA.

Christie knows he is gambling but obviously likes his odds, since the state has legislation and will soon have regulations in place allowing Atlantic City casinos to accept sports bets. Never mind that 1992 federal action limits any kind of sports betting to four states, including Nevada’s anything goes action.

The federal ban gave New Jersey a chance to approve it in 1992 but backroom dealmakers in Trenton took the vote off the ballot figuring its presence would bring out voters not inclined to elect the Republican governor who narrowly won.

Which Atlantic City casinos are inclined to take the risk that may put them in harms way so far as the feds are concerned?

Probably those that would not expose themselves to regulatory problems elsewhere, casinos such as the Revel and Resorts, the newest and the oldest of Atlantic City casinos.

The late Resorts co-owner Dennis Gomes last year toyed with a plan that would have allowed the casino to accept sports wagering that would reward winning bets with points that could be redeemed for noncash prizes… very much like the way loyalty club points are used. The plan was never implemented.

“The governor certainly has our support,” Revel’s DeSanctis said Sunday. Christie spent the weekend at the Revel, an occasion that probably gave them time to discuss any number of issues.

“Sports betting does not make a lot of money by itself, but it is a very nice amenity to offer customers,” DeSanctis said. He was probably thinking of the Super Bowl parties that have made the NFL’s biggest game of the year one of the biggest weekends of the year in Las Vegas.

DeSanctis is not willing to say yet what he will do, but I’m guessing he educated the governor about how profitable Super Bowl weekends have been for Las Vegas casinos during recent years.

It’s the kind of success Christie wants for Atlantic City.