New Jersey’s successful bid to host the 2014 Super Bowl at the Meadowlands may put two prominent gaming proposals — sports betting and racetrack slot machines — on the state’s back burner, depending on potential opposition from the National Football League.
State lawmakers decided at the last minute to postpone a scheduled May 20 Senate vote on legalizing sports betting through a public referendum. A federal ban would also have to be changed before sports betting could become a reality.
Some lawmakers said that the delayed vote, coming five days before the National Football League announced that New Jersey’s nearly-built Meadowlands stadium would host the 2014 Super Bowl, showed officials wanted to avoid sparring with the NFL, which opposes wagering on sports results.
“I think it’s pretty clear that was a factor,” said Assemblyman Vincent Polistina, R-Atlantic, a district where Atlantic City casinos would benefit from gaining the ability to handle sports wagers. That vote has been rescheduled for June 10.
Now lawmakers and industry observers wonder whether other gaming changes will experience a Super Bowl-related delay.
Advisers to Gov. Chris Christie are scheduled to reocommend proposals to boost state revenue from gaming, racing and sports assets by June 30.
Christie has not yet decided whether to sign on to a state lawsuit looking to challenge the ban. The suit has been filed in federal court by Democratic state Senator Ray Lesniak, D-Union, who also practices as an attorney.
Jon F. Hanson, who heads the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Gaming, Sports and Entertainment, refused to discuss efforts to overturn the federal ban on sports betting.
“I’m not going to talk about sports betting,” he said.
Asked if the NFL had expressed an opinion about allowing gaming at the Meadowlands site, and whether those opinions would be heard, Hanson said, “Next question.”
Hanson later stressed the Super Bowl was “a huge positive” for the Meadowlands, which he said fit the goal of "creating an entertainment complex there.”
While sports betting remains illegal in most states without a change in federal law, state lawmakers from northern New Jersey have repeatedly suggested expanding gaming outside Atlantic City, first by introducing video-lottery terminals — a form of slot machine — and eventually allowing a casino at the Meadowlands.
If a Meadowlands casino proposal were included in the advisory committee’s recommendations, one gaming analyst noted that the NFL could well end up holding its banner event adjacent to a gambling resort. The NFL has repeatedly reiterated its long-standing policy against mixing gambling and football.
Geoff Miller, a spokesman for the NFL, said the league currently had no public stance on whether or not VLTs could operate at the Meadowlands before the Super Bowl.
“As long as it has nothing to do with gambling on sports games, the league does not have a position on it,” Miller said.
Super Bowl crowds at the new Meadowlands Stadium, the newly-constructed venue in East Rutherford that beat out Miami and Tampa to host football’s biggest event, will likely mean horse-racing fans have to settle for fewer race-days at the adjacent Meadowlands racetrack, according to Tom Luchento, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, which advocates for the horse-racing industry.
Luchento said he wanted to see the governor’s advisers give their approval to sports betting and also to installing VLTs in time for the tournament.
Horse owners, breeders and riders may otherwise suffer, he said: “Without the gaming, we’re out quite a lot, because they’ll probably hold off on racing if they decide to avoid the extra traffic.”
The proposal to allow VLTs outside Atlantic City’s gaming resort has been hailed by supporters of horse racing as a way to reduce racing’s reliance on state subsidies. Detractors of VLTs claim the slots cannot appear outside the resort without altering the state’s constitution.
But a gaming analyst said Tuesday that the Super Bowl’s arrival, four years in the future, effectively postpones discussion of adding video-lottery terminals to the Meadowlands Race Course.
“I’d say the news puts off the whole question of gaming at the Meadowlands until after 2014,” said Israel Posner, a gaming analyst with Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township. “I wouldn’t give it a snowball’s chance in hell before then.”
The league has campaigned repeatedly against states looking to overturn the federal sports-betting ban, which came into force in 1992, but which grandfathered in four states, Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Timothy McDonough, a longtime mayor of Hope Township in Warren County, represented the NFL during a public hearing on New Jersey sports-betting, held in Atlantic City this April.
But the league also seeks to prevent anyone with a stake in an NFL team from owning an interest in a gambling casino.
John Samerjan, a spokesman for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, said that the new Meadowlands Stadium had been built to become the home of two football team franchises, the Giants and the Jets. “We only staff it and are here to provide support,” he said of the NJSEA’s involvement.
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