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New Jersey Legislature looking to act quickly on sports betting

New Jersey lawmakers will move quickly to regulate legal sports betting, with the state Senate president eyeing the first week in June for legislative approval.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said in a statement to The Press of Atlantic City the exact details of when sports betting will be ready to go in New Jersey are still being worked out, but he anticipates decisive action.

“We want to move quickly to capitalize on New Jersey’s advantages on this opportunity,” Sweeney wrote in an email. “The specific schedule still has to be set and we have to coordinate with the Assembly, but I expect to have the sports-betting bill approved by the Senate at our next session on June 7 so that sports gaming can be up and running as soon as the governor signs the bill.”

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Sweeney is a primary sponsor of a Senate bill to auth-orize, regulate and tax sports wagering at the state’s casinos and racetracks. The legislation was introduced within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday declaring the federal ban on sports betting unconstitutional. Nearly identical bills have been introduced in both the Assembly and Senate, with the lower chamber’s version having been proposed May 7.

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington, Camden, said sports betting legalization is not a new concept in Trenton, so there is no reason to delay. Greenwald said he did not want to put a date on when the Assembly would deliberate the issue, but it would come up “certainly during the budget process.”

“From a business perspective, we should want to get this up and running quickly,” he said Tuesday evening. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here. We have strong gaming houses and institutions in New Jersey already.”

Greenwald acknowledged Trenton is aware other states could take advantage of the high court’s ruling. It has been reported that 32 other states are considering some form of legalized sports betting, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.

Gov. Phil Murphy, in a statement released Monday following the Supreme Court’s decision, said he looks “forward to working with the Legislature to enact a law authorizing and regulating sports betting in the very near future.”

What does sports betting mean for Atlantic City

Early College High School opening up opportunity for Pleasantville students

PLEASANTVILLE — Next fall, Detty Exantus will begin her sophomore year at Pleasantville High School. At the same time, she will begin her first year of college.

Exantus is one of about 60 students enrolled in the inaugural year of the district’s Early College High School program through the George Washington Carver Education Foundation and Atlantic Cape Community College.

“Basically every opportunity that comes my way, I want to be a part of it,” said Detty, 15, who plans to study biomedical engineering.

High school Principal Jim Bonek said the pathways were developed specifically for Pleasantville by evaluating current social situations and emerging career trends.

Bonek said 100 percent of the students at the high school who were eligible to take part in the program have signed up. He said the program is expected to help with the district’s graduation rate, which he said has been steadily increasing over the years.

“Two or three years ago, we were in the mid to upper 70s,” Bonek said.

According to state data, Pleasantville’s graduation rate in 2017 was 86.6 percent. The state average is 90.5 percent.

Research has shown that the Early College High School initiative, a national program started by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has a profoundly beneficial effect on minority and low-income students, according to a new report from the advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education, or All4Ed.

Pleasantville administrators hope the program not only increases graduation and post-secondary educations rates, but relieves a financial burden for students when they head to college.

“With the recent economic downturn in this region, being able to return to Pleasantville and provide clear pathways for college and career achievement and attainment for students reminds me just why I became an educator — to impact the lives of everyone I encounter,” said Jerome Taylor, a former Pleasantville teacher who founded the George Washington Carver foundation.

Taylor, who brought Early College High School to South Jersey last year, said Pleasantville is the first district outside Cumberland County he has worked with to implement the program.

The program will be available for sixth- through 12th-grade students. Students who take part at the middle school level will be introduced to career options and given extra academic support to prepare them for the high school program, said middle school Principal Rayna Hendricks.

“I can’t imagine a parent who wouldn’t want their child to go this track,” she said. “It gives them focus. It shows them and teaches them how to set goals early.”

Early College student Joshua Cortes, 13, is in eighth grade now and said he hopes to be a chemical or robotics engineer when he is older. Joshua said the idea of college can be daunting.

“It’s a good feeling to know that we have something there to help us out,” he said.

A special page has been set up on the high school website detailing the three tracks available to students: teaching, STEM, and digital design and performing arts.

Funding for the program is still being worked out, but Taylor said the students will not pay to participate. Atlantic Cape Community College President Barbara Gaba said they are in the process of finalizing the agreement. According to the resolution approved by the Pleasantville school board, the program will cost about $30,000.

Superintendent Clarence Alston said many students at Pleasantville lose focus and motivation in school as they get older. Early College High School is a way to draw them back to academia, he said.

“I like the idea of us being able to start so early and to let them see that success is within their grasp. I think it will contribute to an atmosphere of seriousness about academics and a level of excellence,” Alston said.

Although she is unsure where she sees herself after high school, Detty said she won’t be starting from zero.

“The working field is intense, so whatever opportunity you get, you have to go for it,” she said.

Minor league baseball could return to Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY — Surf Stadium could once again be home to a minor league baseball team.

City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday evening on a resolution authorizing former Atlantic City Surf owner Frank Boulton to negotiate on behalf of the city and leverage his connections to find an ownership group willing to bring minor league baseball back to the city. The resolution provides Boulton a 90-day window to find a team.

Boulton is a founding member of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, the only independent league with a relationship with Major League Baseball.

Council President Marty Small Sr. said the city has “everything to gain and nothing to lose” from reopening the shuttered Surf Stadium at Bader Field on Albany Avenue.

“This has absolutely no downside,” Small said. “If Mr. Boulton delivers in 90 days and all the terms are ready to go, we’ll have baseball next spring.”

Small said new owners would likely have to invest in upgrades and repairs that would improve the asset. Besides baseball, Small said, the 5,500-seat stadium with the city skyline in the background is a great setting for concerts, tournaments and festivals.

“There’s work to be done, there’s no question about it,” Boulton said. “But that won’t be done in the next 90 days. What will be done in the next 90 days is getting the commitments to do all the work and put all the pieces of the puzzle in place.”

Could baseball work in Atlantic City?

When Cecil Fielder and the rest of the Atlantic City Surf walked off the field at Stade Canac in Quebec following a playoff loss to the Capitales in September 2008, little did they realize they had played their last game.

An ownership group willing to put an Atlantic City team in either the Atlantic League or the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball is what Boulton said most interested him. Boulton said there would be no cost to Atlantic City during the 90-day period based on a memorandum of understanding he submitted to the council.

“This has been in the works for quite a while,” Boulton said Tuesday. “I’m in a position to help, and that’s what I’m trying to do here.”

Surf Stadium opened in 1998. The Surf played its final game in 2008 and ceased operations in March 2009. New Jersey has five minor league baseball teams but at one point had as many as eight. Defunct teams include the Newark Bears and Camden Riversharks, both of which were members of the Atlantic League at one point.

Look back at Sandcastle Stadium and Surf baseball in Atlantic City

File Photo 


Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said in a statement to The Press of Atlantic City that the exact details of when sports betting will be up and running in New Jersey are still being worked out but he is anticipating decisive action.

Advocates help bridge addiction resource gaps in municipal courts

LOWER TOWNSHIP — She might not be able to solve everyone’s problem or convince people to get immediate treatment for a substance use disorder, but that doesn’t stop Abigail Sheptock from trying.

Sheptock is part of a growing public advocate program in Cape May County that places social work and drug counseling experts at municipal courts to serve as resources for families, friends and individuals going through the justice system who may need help finding addiction treatment and other services.

“Sometimes people come in and ask for help for things that aren’t drug- or alcohol-related,” she said. “They may not be ready and able to see their issues with drugs as a tangible thing, so we’ll help with everyday things like electricity or transportation, and when they are ready, we’re here for them.”

The public advocate program, overseen by Cape Assist and done in partnership with local police departments and Christians United for Recovery, was adopted from a similar program in Gloucester County to better connect people with treatment resources and ultimately reduce recidivism and crime rates.

Katie Faldetta, Cape Assist executive director and CEO, said because fewer serious offenders in municipal court lack access to popular state programs like drug court, which is an avenue for higher-level offenders, the public advocate program is meant to help people before their crimes escalate to that point.

Cape Assist’s program has advocates such as Sheptock stationed once a week at municipal courts in Middle Township, Wildwood and most recently Lower Township.

It was first brought to Middle Township in 2014 with support from police Chief Christopher Leusner.

Lower Township police Lt. Donald Vanaman said the court process can be extremely confusing and overwhelming, especially for people with addictions. Having a public advocate who can meet individuals and families where they are may lead to better long-term outcomes, he said.

“I know people who, if it wasn’t for their struggle with addiction, they wouldn’t be committing some of these collateral crimes,” Vanaman said. “We let people know that there is an advocate to help them, because we’re excited to have that option here.”

Sheptock and fellow advocate Kim Mounce invite anyone who may be struggling with any issue to come talk to them at court.

One day, they may help someone find a way home.

Other times, they may get an intake appointment with an addiction treatment or detox center and secure an inpatient bed for someone who is ready to give recovery a chance.

“The hard part is, you can’t get them help if they don’t want it, so I’ll ask, ‘What can I do to keep you safe now?’” Mounce said. “Sometimes, I’ll get someone who calls me a couple days later asking for treatment. There are a lot of resources and funding out there, but people need help finding it.”

Mounce sees between five and eight people per court day in Middle Township, while Sheptock sees about one to two people a day in Lower Township’s new program. Program organizers say they expect those numbers to rise once more people know about the public advocate services.

Faldetta said court officials, police departments and other organizations have made the program work through collaborative efforts to help the community overall, and would like to see more communities adopt public advocates in their court systems.

Current advocates are either funded by the municipalities or through outside sources. Grant money from Ocean Inc. made it possible for Lower Township to offer a public advocate starting last month.

“When I see someone who has reoccurring court cases, and they reach a point where they decide enough is enough and make an appointment for treatment help, that’s what makes this worth it,” Sheptock said.