ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Tuesday that legalizes sports betting in New Jersey, but a federal ban must be overturned before wagering actually is allowed on professional and college games.

The new law follows overwhelming voter approval in November of a ballot referendum to amend the state constitution to permit sports betting at the Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey horseracing tracks.

But first, New Jersey must wait for Congress or the courts to repeal a 1992 federal law that bans sports betting in all but Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Those states had some form of sports betting on the books before the ban was enacted.

“Our attorney general now has the tools to go to federal court to overturn the federal ban on sports betting, so next year, this time, Atlantic City will be hopping with fans betting on the Giants or Eagles in next year’s Super Bowl, or if miracles can happen, even the Jets,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, sports betting’s chief proponent in the Legislature.

Lesniak noted that hotel rooms in Las Vegas are sold out during the Super Bowl and other major sporting events, while Atlantic City “is a proverbial ghost town” at those times because it currently lacks sports betting.

“That’s about to change,” he said of Atlantic City.

Other supporters also believe sports betting will help pull Atlantic City’s 11 casinos out of a five-year slump by giving tourists another reason to visit the gambling resort. They also say it will give a boost to the state’s horseracing tracks — Atlantic City Race Course, Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway.

“New Jersey voters made it clear they want sports betting, and this law will handle it in a responsible and professional manner,” said state Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex. “It does the right thing for New Jersey and will ensure our racetracks and casinos remain competitive.”

Assemblyman John Burzichelli said the sports betting law calls for a highly regulated system that will generate additional revenue for state programs benefitting senior citizens and disabled residents.

“This is a well-thought-out plan that allows New Jersey to take advantage of this revenue opportunity,” said Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland. “Let’s face it — sports betting is already taking place, but the only people taking advantage of it are the bookies and criminal enterprises.”

Although sports betting would be allowed on professional and college games, there would be some restrictions. Bets could not be placed on New Jersey’s collegiate teams.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade group representing Atlantic City’s gaming industry, praised the sports betting bill as “an important step” in efforts to repeal the federal ban.

“Legalized sports betting would provide an economic boost for Atlantic City and the entire state of New Jersey as it would attract more tourists to our city and its world-class entertainment, thriving restaurants, brand-name retail shopping and famous Boardwalk,” Bob Griffin, the association’s president, said in a statement.

Expanded betting

on horse races

Also Tuesday, the governor signed another bill that would expand gambling in New Jersey by allowing horseracing fans to place bets on electronic terminals in bars or restaurants in the northern and central parts of the state.

Under the law, the New Jersey Racing Commission will oversee a pilot program to license “a limited number” of bars and restaurants. Only bars and restaurants in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic, Union, Morris, Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties and the northern parts of Middlesex and Ocean counties would be eligible.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

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