Christie in Atlantic City

Gov. Chris Christie

Danny Drake

ATLANTIC CITY - Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday that there will be sports gambling this fall.

Christie — who made the announcement during a press conference on the Boardwalk on Thursday — seemingly challenged federal authorities who might try to enforce the ban.

“We would expect those rules to be enacted this fall, in October or November and for sports gambling to come here to Atlantic City to further enhance the experience of people who want to come here, visit here, gamble here and enjoy time here,” Christie said standing a few feet from Resorts Casino Hotel.

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“If somebody wants to stop us, they have to take action to try and stop us,” he said.

Earlier this year, the governor signed a bill authorizing sports gambling. This week, his administration will submit regulations that would allow sports bets to be taken in the state before the year ends. However, officials are expecting a legal challenge to arise out of a federal ban that prohibits sports gambling in nearly every state, including New Jersey, Christie said.

“That is going to be their burden to try and prevent it, and that’s why we are doing it the way we are doing it,” the governor said. “May we have to go through some litigation to get there? Probably, but I think we’ll be successful.”

Christie said half of the proceeds from licensing fees will fund programs to help compulsive gamblers.

“It will be another exciting way to add to the experience here in Atlantic City,” the governor said of sports gambling. “I know it’s something people have been waiting for a long time.”

Aaron Gomes, executive vice president of operations at Resorts, said it was too early to tell whether his casino would immediately invest in sports gambling if a federal challenge were likely.

“We’d have to evaluate the risk,” Gomes said.

Sports betting by itself is not as much of a money maker as the crowds drawn to sporting events, such as March Madness — a hugely popular college basketball tournament held during the spring.

“You’d draw a crowd, your room rates would go up,” Gomes said of sports gambling.

Christie was in Atlantic City to kick off the start of the tourist season, highlighting the importance of shore tourism, which contributed half of the $38 billion visitors spent last year across the state, he said. The governor said he, his wife and children intend to return to the city on Saturday and stay overnight into Sunday as a sign of support for the Atlantic City tourism district.

“We’re going to put our money where our mouth is,” Christie said.

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said in an interview he had no problems with Christie’s strategy but that the state should be prepared for any legal court judgement. At the moment, only four states are exempt from the federal ban on sports betting.

“The bad news is that when the decision is made, they are not going to say only five states can have it, they are going to say all 50 can,” Whelan said, adding that means there will be added competition from neighboring states. “But at least New Jersey is teed up and will be in the forefront. And that will help with the marketing of the casinos.”

The city has been the subject of negative publicity in connection with two Canadian women killed earlier this week. One Philadelphia newspaper called Atlantic City a “tourist death trap,” which garnered heavy criticism, including from Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who spoke before Christie at the press conference.

“It is a safer city, it is a cleaner city, it is a city that wants to welcome the visitors, make them feel good and have them come back,” Levinson said of Atlantic City.

The executive then attacked Philadelphia for its crime rate.

“To date this year, they have surpassed last year’s murders in Philadelphia. To date — 137,” Levinson said. “Same as New York. Difference is — New York has five times the population...If you want to be safe, you want to gamble safely, you want to recreate safely, you want to be entertained, you want to eat, come to Atlantic City.”

Christie said he believed the city’s tourism district was safer now than before.

“Fact is you have to go look at what they are doing here, what we are doing here together in Atlantic City to make this a safer and cleaner place,” he said. “It does not mean that bad things won’t happen every once in awhile but they are just every once in awhile and certainly not at the frequency that they happened before.”

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