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Court suggests it may side with New Jersey in sports betting case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday suggested it may side with New Jersey in its effort to legalize sports gambling in a case that could make betting on football, basketball and other sports widely available.

During the hourlong hearing, the court heard arguments on New Jersey’s challenge to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law that prohibits sports betting in most states.

The case pits New Jersey and other states against all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government. The stakes are high. The American Gaming Association estimates Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak, who attended the hearing, said he is confident the ban will be overturned. Lesniak, D-Union, has been fighting to bring sports betting to Atlantic City and the state for the past eight years.

Online gaming revenues continue to grow

ATLANTIC CITY — When Gov. Chris Christie signed internet gaming legislation into law in February 2013, it was touted as another option that would make the resort’s gaming market more competitive.

“I expect us to win. I would be very disappointed if we didn’t,” he said.

A decision is expected by the end of June.

Gov. Chris Christie said outside court that if the justices rule in New Jersey’s favor, “we could have bets being taken in New Jersey within two weeks of a decision by the court.”

If the PASPA ban is struck down, New Jersey is expected to generate more than $173 million in additional tax revenue and see the creation of more than 3,633 jobs, according to a study from Oxford Economics. Nationally, 32 states likely would offer sports betting within five years.

“Our casinos deserve this,” Lesniak said. “They have been ailing for years. This will bring a lot of life and jobs back to Atlantic City.”

The state argued the Constitution allows Congress to make wagering on sports illegal but it can’t require states to keep sports gambling prohibitions in place.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to suggest Congress’ action was permissible. But other justices suggested they would side with New Jersey. Justice Anthony Kennedy told Paul Clement, who was arguing for the sports leagues, that the law seemed like impermissible “commandeering,” or compelling the state to take an action.

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, viewed the reaction of the court to the arguments as a positive in the fight to overturn the “unconstitutional law.”

“While we can’t predict the intentions of Supreme Court justices, we can accurately predict the demise of” PASPA, Freeman said. “The justices of the court expressed deep interest in the role of the federal government — a role that we believe has created a thriving illegal market that has driven trillions of dollars to offshore websites and corner bookies.”

The law barring sports gambling makes exceptions for Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware, states that had approved some form of sports wagering before the law took effect. Nevada is the only state where a person can wager on the results of a single game, though the law doesn’t cover wagering among friends. In passing the law, Congress gave New Jersey a yearlong window to authorize sports betting at its casinos, but the state didn’t act.

“It’s my sincere hope that the Supreme Court will rule in our favor to finally legalize sports betting here in New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “Having sports betting will be another tool in our arsenal to attract more visitors and revenue to Atlantic City.”

Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, called the law absurd.

“At a time when we are revitalizing Atlantic City and hundreds of millions of dollars are leaving the state on sports betting, the federal ban is only punishing New Jersey residents,” Brown said.

Locals rally in Mays Landing to protest GOP tax bill

MAYS LANDING — About two dozen people rallied outside the office of U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo on Monday in protest of Republican-backed tax bills they say will raise taxes on many in New Jersey.

The rally, organized by Action Together New Jersey, was part of a statewide effort to urge Republican members of Congress to vote against the tax-reform bill.

“There is no evidence to suggest that by cutting taxes on the wealthiest among us that we, the middle class, are going to be any better off,” said Tanzie Youngblood, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat LoBiondo will retire from in 2019. “This tax bill puts us in debt, and it puts us in danger of having many social programs cut.”

The local rally was headlined by speeches from Atlantic County Freeholder-elect Caren Fitzpatrick, Youngblood and fellow Democratic congressional candidate Sean Thom. The main talking point, by candidates and residents alike, was that the theory of “trickle-down economics” does not serve middle-class families across the country.

The House of Representatives and the Senate recently passed their own versions of tax reform that would significantly change the federal tax structure in the United States. Proponents of the legislation say it will simplify the tax code and lessen the tax burden on U.S. citizens by increasing the standard deduction and child tax credits. Proponents also say decreasing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, something that is in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, will increase competition among businesses and create jobs.

Opponents of the legislation say the reforms are “gifts” to the wealthiest people in the country and that vital programs such as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid will be cut to pay for the lost revenue. They also fear education spending could be slashed to help pay for the tax cuts.

“I look at the impact on education and the removal of the student loan tax credits and see that as unacceptable,” said Thom, of Millville. “We need to recognize where the taxation needs to start and where it needs to come from.”

With both versions of the legislation passing, the two chambers are tasked with combining their legislation to create one tax bill. If they do that, it must pass both chambers again before it can be signed by President Donald Trump. No vote has been scheduled.

House Republicans have a bigger cushion than Senate Republicans in passing a final measure or conference report.

Assuming all Democrats remain opposed to the measure, the Senate can lose just two GOP votes — with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote — but the House can lose 22 votes to opposition and the bill would still pass.

Only 13 Republicans voted against the tax bill the House passed Nov. 16. Of those “no” votes, 12 came from members from the high-tax states of New York, New Jersey and California over concerns about the partial elimination of the state and local tax deduction, also known as SALT.

LoBiondo voted against the House version of the bill, saying it would negatively affect his constituents in South Jersey.

“When the House tax reform legislation was introduced, I said my support was dependent on preserving key deductions critical to taxpayers in my high-tax state of New Jersey,” LoBiondo said after voting against the bill. “As hard-working South Jersey residents already face excessive taxes from Trenton, I cannot support compounding the financial burden by eliminating their state and local income-tax deductions, capping their property-tax deductions and removing deductions for medical or education expenses.”

GOP leaders are working on a proposal to partially restore the deduction for state and local income taxes, which is fully repealed in both chambers’ bills, to address the concerns of California Republicans. But the Senate would have to agree to that in conference.

That’s just one of many issues the two chambers will have to tackle. Other House priorities include eliminating expiration dates for tax cuts for individuals, fully repealing the estate tax and maintaining the corporate rate at no higher than 20 percent.

Protesters at the rally said they are not necessarily against reforming the tax code, but they are opposed to the current legislation.

“This tax bill is not good for Americans,” Fitzpatrick said. “The one thing that sticks in my mind is that you can’t get a deduction for going to college, but if you happen to buy a private jet, there is a tax deduction. We’re all in luck for that one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

Congressman Frank LoBiondo spoke at the chamber updating on events and legislation. Chamber also discuss state issues and review advocacy/economic development activities the Chamber has been engaged in during the past year. Nov. 21, 2017 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

Request to dismiss weapons charges against James Kauffman denied

MAYS LANDING — An Atlantic County Superior Court judge has denied a motion to dismiss the weapons charges indictment against Linwood doctor James Kauffman, county Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner announced Monday.

Kauffman was indicted on four charges following his June arrest, two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes and obstruction of administration of law.

Calls to Kauffman’s attorney Edwin Jacobs, of Jacobs and Barbone of Atlantic City, were not returned Monday.

According to Tyner, a motion was filed Oct. 16 by Kauffman’s lawyers to dismiss the indictment. Arguments were presented Nov. 17 from both the defense and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy.

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office said Monday that a trial date on the pending charges has not been scheduled.

On June 13, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, along with members of the FBI and local law enforcement, executed a search warrant of Kauffman’s Linwood home and Egg Harbor Township office. Kauffman displayed a 9mm handgun during the search before eventually surrendering to authorities.

Kauffman was married to veterans advocate and radio host April Kauffman when she was found slain in their home in 2012. The doctor has not been named a suspect in the case, and authorities have said the June 13 warrants were unrelated to their ongoing investigation into the homicide.

After Kauffman’s arrest, Jacobs told reporters five search warrants were issued at his medical office related to a homicide and health care fraud investigation.

Kauffman remains in custody at the Atlantic County jail in Mays Landing.

Staff Writer John De-Rosier contributed to this report.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer/  

Dr. James Kauffman is arraigned Thurs-day in front of Atlantic County Super-ior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury.

N.J. high schools vote to radically change state football playoffs

New Jersey high school football playoffs are one step away from public school state championship games.

At a general membership meeting of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association in Robbinsville Monday, representatives from the state’s high schools voted 218-79, with 12 members abstaining, to change the current playoff system. The new format will begin in 2018.

Under the current system, public schools can only win sectional championships in their enrollment groups, such as South Jersey Group I, II, III, IV and V.

The new system creates two “bowl games” in each of the five enrollment groups among the four sectional champions — South Jersey, Central Jersey, North Jersey I and North Jersey II. These games are, in effect, state semifinals.

But the season will end without a state final — for now — because the NJSIAA constitution bans them in football for public schools. The NJSIAA governs most New Jersey high school sports.

“A lot of people want to see overall state champions in New Jersey,” said Southern Regional Athletic Director Chuck Donohue Jr., who supported the proposal and whose father, Chuck Sr., is the Rams’ longtime coach. “Today was a step forward toward that. It adds not only excitement but new opportunities.”

The new format does the following:

• Divides the state into South Jersey and North Jersey. The 16 teams with the highest power ranking in each enrollment group in North Jersey would be divided into two sections. The 16 teams with the most power points in each enrollment group in South Jersey would be divided into two sections.

• The current power-points system in which teams earn points based on their record and their opponents’ records and enrollment will be re-examined and revised.

• Thanksgiving rivalries are preserved. Teams will play eight regular-season games.

• Teams that don’t make the playoffs can play two consolation games instead of one. Teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs also can play a consolation game.

• The playoffs will begin the first weekend in November, one week earlier than they currently do.

• The sectional title games would be played the weekend before Thanksgiving instead of the first weekend in December.

• The sectional winners will meet in bowl games the first weekend of December.

• Nearly all Non-Public teams will make the playoffs. This will add an extra round to the Non-Public playoffs. The Non-Public title games will be played the first weekend in December, along with the public school bowl games.

Football coaches and athletic directors from both North and South Jersey put together the proposal.

“The proposal was very unified,” Donohue said. “It (came) from people who care about the game.”

Many athletic directors praised the new format’s flexibility. Teams can choose to play just eight regular-season games. They also can choose to play just one consolation game rather than the two permitted under the new system.

Mainland Regional High School also voted in support of the proposal.

Mustangs coach Chuck Smith said he liked that sectional title games will be played the week before Thanksgiving instead of after the holiday. Teams involved in sectional title games often play a Thanksgiving game in the middle of their playoff runs. Playoff teams often have to scramble to play Thanksgiving or are just worn out by the emotional toll of competing in the playoffs.

“In the past, that caused some hiccups,” Smith said.

Smith said he likes that teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs can now play a consolation game.

“If you ended on a sour note,” he said, “you can still get a victory.”

The so-called bowl games should create excitement and add interest in football, Donohue said.

“For the high school football fans in the state, instead of just hearing about Delsea Regional football (this year’s South Jersey group III champion), now they have a better opportunity to see it,” Donohue said. “That’s good for the state of the game and the popularity of the game.”

The new system does not extend the season. To add state title games, the season would have to start one week earlier or end one week later.