Even if New Jersey loses its latest bid to tap into the multibillion-dollar sports betting industry, federal legislation could provide an avenue to legalize the activity, two congressmen said Wednesday.
U.S. Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Frank Pallone were in Atlantic City touting the benefits of sports betting and calling for action on two measures that could allow wagering even if the state's court battle proves unsuccessful.
LoBiondo, R-2nd, and Pallone, D-6th, have introduced separate pieces of legislation, either of which could accomplish that task. Pallone's legislation would allow sports betting specifically in New Jersey, while LoBiondo's would open up the possibility for any state, including New Jersey, to consider the practice. Both are awaiting action in the Judiciary Committee.
"The legislative process is a long and tortuous one that we've started on. We believe that we can keep generating interest as we move along with our colleagues," LoBiondo said during a Boardwalk news conference. "If this 3rd Circuit court were to rule in our favor, this makes our jobs much easier. In fact, it eliminates our job and gets us to the finish line a whole lot sooner."
New Jersey voters approved a sports betting referendum in 2011. Last year, state legislation was passed that would have allowed the wagering at Atlantic City casinos and state racetracks. A federal judge blocked the move after the National Collegiate Athletic Association and four professional sports leagues sued the state.
New Jersey has appealed the ruling in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the federal law banning sports betting in all states aside from Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon is unconstitutional and has encouraged an underground wagering industry.
Arguments in the case were heard in June, and a decision is pending.
"New Jersey voted for and deserves the same opportunity for sports betting which has been allowed in other states, and I hope that the court's upcoming decision puts an end to the delay that is robbing New Jerseyans of the opportunity to share in the profits of sports betting," Pallone said.
LoBiondo acknowledged that other members of Congress might not be tuned in to the issue because it's more pertinent to New Jersey than other states. Still, he said, he believes the issue can gain traction over time.
Even if the state wins its court battle, additional legal challenges are likely to occur, further dragging out the process, he said, stressing another reason why it would be advantageous to see action on the federal legislation.
"While sports betting itself won't be that final golden situation that solves everything, we think it will be a great opportunity and a great tool for us," LoBiondo said.
LoBiondo and Pallone were joined on the Boardwalk by about 15 members of the casino industry who support legalized sports betting.
While sports betting hasn't been approved in the state, Atlantic City casinos are approved for fantasy sports leagues in which players can draft a pool of athletes and compete against other fantasy teams.
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