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Jersey eyes sports bets

Apr 6, 2004 6:48 AM

A little more than a decade ago, Congress passed legislation that limited sports betting to Nevada and three other states, but left the window of opportunity open for New Jersey lawmakers.

At that time, one of the state’s U.S. senators was Bill Bradley of National Basketball Association fame and he adamantly opposed sports betting at Atlantic City casinos.

Eventually, New Jersey missed the deadline set by Congress and its window closed shut.

That didn’t sit well with some state officials, led by defrocked Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, who vowed to some day include New Jersey among the states that permitted sports betting.

But with Torricelli’s forced resignation and a new governor, the issue of sports betting was placed on the back burner. Until last week.

Now, a new effort to approve sports betting is under way, led by Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald, who chairs the state Assembly Budget Committee. And the hook he is applying to the plan is to raise as much as $300 million to aid the state’s hospitals.

The hook was sharp enough to attract the attention of Gov. Jim McGreevey, whose spokesman said the governor was "open to the idea. We look forward to reviewing the details."

Addressing his plan, Greenwald was quoted as saying, "We have gambling in New Jersey. I think we’ve demystified the notions of corruption in the casino industry. We need to look at something that helps them (the casinos) and, in helping them, helps us."

Greenwald added that his plan would tax the amount bet, and a portion of the proceeds would be sent to the state’s hospitals to pay for health care of needy patients. He said the project could raise millions of dollars. "It’s clearly hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

Greenwalk cited Nevada’s experience by pointing out that the state’s 161 sports books handled $1.8 billion and won $123 million last year.

Just how New Jersey would supersede the federal ban isn’t known. But Greenwald maintained that the federal ban was unconstitutional and he would ask the state’s attorney general to address the issue.

Naturally, the proposal found immediate support in the gaming industry. Dennis Gomes, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey called it a "huge benefit to Atlantic City. It would enable us to compete with Las Vegas. Sports betting in Las Vegas is dynamic, huge, almost a separate industry," he told the Associated Press.

Gaming observers readily agree. Said one, "Let’s face it, nearly everyone is betting on sports. That’s why there has been so much interest in these many offshore Internet sports betting sites. They’re flourishing because people want to bet on their favorite teams."

Overcoming the Congressional ban on sports betting won’t come easily since the professional sports leagues in recent years have been lobbying federal lawmakers to ban all sports betting.

But experts say, it is not out of the question either.