Legislators in New Jersey will hold hearings this week on a bill that would legalize sports betting in Atlantic City casinos.
If approved, the bill would allow for betting on pro sports only; no wagering would be permitted on college or other amateur sports events.
Even if it is approved in the legislature and ratified by New Jersey voters, the state would have to overcome existing federal statutes that ban sports betting in all but four states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana).
Nevertheless, its supporters say the state could overturn the federal law and have urged the attorney general to contest the issue.
New Jersey 10 years ago had a one-year window of opportunity to enact legislation permitting sports betting but failed to garner enough support to bring the issue to the ballot.
Now, legislators want sports betting to help ease a possible $4 billion shortfall in the next state budget, and to help stave off competition from other states that are moving closer to offering casino gambling.
"Sports betting is a very intriguing idea that could help solidify the financial standing of Atlantic City’s casinos while producing a new revenue stream for state programs that help seniors and residents with disabilities," said Assembly Speaker Albio Sires. "For the sake of responding to the wave of new gambling competition in other states, it is time we find out if sports gambling can be added to the wagering mix at Atlantic City’s gaming halls."
Helping to fuel the desire to legalize sports betting is casino executives’ estimate that illegal sports betting in the U.S. could be as high as $300 billion annually.
New Jersey officials estimate that legalization would mean up to $350 million in additional revenue to the state.
Successfully challenging interstate commerce laws that prohibit sports betting is feasible, said Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, sponsor of the bill.
Drew said the climate in Washington and the U.S. Supreme Court has recently favored states’ rights in issues like gambling.
"Atlantic City is one of the major drivers in the regional economy," Van Drew said. "All the money is not coming from Atlantic City. This is a regional economic incentive."