Apple pie contests are an American tradition, but some competitions exclude bakers from New Jersey because of an obscure court ruling decades ago about games of chance.

The New Jersey Assembly has approved legislation that would clarify gambling regulations that have prevented state residents from participating in skilled baking or cooking competitions.

An Atlantic City woman, Sally Ball, helped draw attention to misconstrued gambling laws when she contacted Assemblymen Chris Brown and John Amodeo after being rejected from a national pie championship hosted by the Orlando, Fla.-based American Pie Council.

She traveled to Trenton on May 8 to express her frustrations before the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee. The legislation was unanimously passed by the committee that day and by the full Assembly on Monday.

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Brown, R-Atlantic, 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 value of the entrance fee is considered a risk for a chance to win in a contest.

The new 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 solely on the quality of the goods or recipe as determined by judges using uniform criteria.

This will apply to any skilled contests, including cook-offs.

"We support strong regulations to protect the integrity of gaming, yet when those rules block an aspiring Betty Crocker from entering a pie-baking contest, they become nuisance red tape," said Amodeo, R-Atlantic. "New Jersey would be better off with less red tape and more pies."

The bill awaits consideration by the Senate.

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