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Legislation that would allow New Jersey's horse racing tracks and Atlantic City casinos to accept wagers on sporting events will soon go before an Assembly panel. It would allow gamblers to make bets in person, over the phone or online, though wagers would not be allowed on college games that take place in the Garden State or involve a New Jersey college team, regardless of where the game was played.
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But before any such law could be enacted, voters would first have to amend the state Constitution to permit such wagering. The state would also need a legal victory in a federal lawsuit filed last year by a state senator that seeks to overturn a federal ban on sports betting in New Jersey and 45 other states. "Sports betting already exists in New Jersey, but only the criminals are enjoying the profits," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, who chairs the Assembly' Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, which will consider the bill. Proponents of the measure ruefully note that the hearing, due to start at 2 p.m. Monday in the State House Annex in Trenton, will come one day after the Super Bowl. They say Las Vegas was expected to see $100 million in wagering on the big game and lament that no such activity will occur at New Jersey casinos. "Legal, carefully regulated sports wagering would bolster both Atlantic City and the state. New Jersey should go all in," said Burzichelli, who is one of the bill's primary sponsors along with fellow Democrats Nelson Albano and Matthew W. Milam of Cape May Court House, Lou Greenwald of Voorhees and Paul Moriarty of Turnersville A 1992 federal law restricts sports betting to four states — Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon — that met a 1994 deadline to sign up for it. New Jersey missed the deadline after state lawmakers failed to put the question before voters in the November 1993 general election, but the lawsuit filed in March 2009 by state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, argues that the sports betting ban puts New Jersey at an economic disadvantage relative to states where it's allowed. "With the growth of out-of-state competition, we should try to correct the mistake New Jersey made 17 years ago," said Albano, whose constituents include many casino industry employees. Greenwald voiced similar views while touting the potential economic benefits that wagering could provide for New Jersey, noting it would help state programs that serve the elderly and people with disabilities. "If New Jersey could tap into even a fraction of the national sports book, the state would generate millions of dollars in new direct revenues and economic dividends from increased tourism," he said. "It wouldn't be a revenue avalanche, but the betting opportunity would certainly strengthen Atlantic City's marketability and gambling hand."