How Jersey politics killed sports betting

Aug 11, 2009 5:05 PM
Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener |

GOP traded wagering for governorship

New Jersey might have had sports betting years ago if the messiness associated with partisan politics during a difficult election year had not gotten in the way.

And if it had been approved, the evolution of legal sports betting across the U.S. would probably have been altered dramatically.

There’s no telling how many states in the heavily populated Northeast where there are easily accessible opportunities to watch college and professional sports might have been tempted by legal sports betting in New Jersey to challenge their exclusion from the 1992 legislation that limited sports wagering to Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, Montana and, of course New Jersey if it took the action necessary to join the club.

Because of its Atlantic City casinos, New Jersey was given a one year window in which to decide if sports wagering would be allowed there.

To comply with the one-year window, the sports betting issue would have had to be on the 1993 ballot, when Republican Christie Whitman was challenging the Democratic incumbent Jim Florio.

A political insider who remembers the issue well shared his recollection of the 1993 New Jersey response to sports betting on the condition he not be identified. There are still a lot of sensitive feelings about how the issue was handled.

There was a good deal of polling, he explained, to determine how likely voters would respond. The eventual conclusion was that inner city minorities were the voting bloc most likely to cast ballots in favor of sports betting.

Those results did not sit well with the Republican Party strategists who were doing all they could to boost Whitman’s campaign. Their conclusion was that those potential inner city voters who were most inclined to support sports betting were not likely to vote for Whitman. If they cared who was governor, they were likely to vote Democratic.

Those GOP strategists also knew Whitman needed every edge she could get. So the Republican-controlled legislature was persuaded to dump sports betting, leave it off the ballot. Whitman was elected by a small margin (about one percentage point) and the impact that sports wagering might have had was left for another day.

The single event sports wagering that will be launched Sept. 1 at three Delaware racinos would not be the big story that it is if history had not taken the 1993 turn that it did. Who knows what the reaction of the major sports leagues might have been? The suit that they are filing in Delaware would not have occurred.

Stadium Technology Group of Las Vegas will provide the sports book management system. Brandywine Gaming will serve as the bookmaker.

Brandywine’s hub for the Delaware system will be in Las Vegas. The two companies are subcontractors of Scientific Gaming, the lottery giant that won the Delaware bid.

The Delaware venture continues to move forward this week, but its supporters continue keeping a keen eye on the federal courts. They heaved a giant sigh of relief after a federal court judge denied the request for a temporary injunction to block the Delaware start-up. To get the injunction, legal experts familiar with the issues at stake in Delaware said the leagues, led by the NFL, would have had to demonstrate irreparable harm as a result of betting’s introduction and the likelihood of success when the suit goes to trial.

But a Las Vegas lawyer familiar with the case saw hope for the NFL position. "More than one lawyer was surprised they did not get their injunction." And there is a chance of an appeal although the chance of success is thought to be small.

The suit could go to trial by the end of the year and the Delaware judge said he will rule on the leagues’ request for a summary judgment in its favor by November.

The big issue for the NFL and its little band of brothers opposed to expanded gaming is not so much what happens in Delaware but the extent to which states will challenge the 1992 ban that slammed the door on 46 other states.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Phil Hevener