Most New Jersey residents probably are unaware they have not been permitted to enter certain national baking contests because they could be considered illegal gambling.

But Sally Ball, 79, of Atlantic City, is aware, because she was rejected the last two years from entering a family recipe for apple pie into an annual contest hosted by the Orlando, Fla.-based American Pie Council. This year's contest was in April.

Ball expressed her frustrations as she spoke Monday morning in Trenton before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, which was considering a bill that would rectify the situation. The legislation, introduced in December after Ball complained to her Assembly representatives, advanced unanimously. It still must pass the full Assembly and in the Senate.

The text of the bill states it addresses "the reluctance of certain sponsors of cooking or baking contests to accept entries from New Jersey residents because they believe that to do so may violate New Jersey's gambling laws." The issue involves contests, such as the Orlando one, in which participants pay a fee in a contest that offers the opportunity to win a monetary prize or something else of value.

Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, sponsored Monday's bill along with John Amodeo, R-Atlantic. Brown said the problem stems from a misunderstanding after a 1982 court case that made some consider entering a baking contest with an entrance fee a game of chance, "just like playing a slot machine or running a raffle."

The 1982 case involved a planned five-day backgammon tournament in Atlantic City in which entrance fees would be collected and prizes distributed. The court ruled that because chance was a material element in the game of backgammon, the tournament was a form of gambling under the New Jersey Constitution.

Brown said Ball was the first individual to have contacted the assemblymen's office about the issue involving a pie or baking contest.

Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said regulations are important, but "when those laws prevent mom from rolling up her sleeves and entering a pie-baking contest, it's time to cut the needless red tape.

"All she wanted to do was enter a national pie-baking contest," Brown said. The bill aims to be a "small slice of common sense" to eliminate a "legal quirk."

The bill clarifies that competitive baking or cooking contests, even if an entrance fee is required, do not violate New Jersey gambling laws as long as the winners are selected soley on the quality of the goods or recipe as determined by judges using uniform criteria.

Calls and emails to the American Pie Council were not returned Monday.

The official eligibility rules for the 2012 amateur National Pie Championship state that the contest is open to legal residents "except Arizona, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont."

Ball said at Monday's meeting she hopes the legislation passes and "in 2014 I will be able to enter my apple pie contest."

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

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