Voters approved a statewide referendum Tuesday that will change the state constitution to enable the legalization of gambling on professional and certain college sporting events -- but only if a current federal ban is overturned. The amendment carried 65 percent of the vote, to 35 percent in opposition.
About 69 percent of Monmouth County voters approved the question.
The amendment was supported by Oceanport Borough, home of Monmouth Park racetrack, as well as Gov. Chris Christie and State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who argues that once the referendum is approved, it will only be a matter of months before the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is ruled unconstitutional.
racetrack is Oceanport's largest taxpayer and employer, and borough officials unanimously approved a resolution on Nov. 3 in favor of adding sports betting at the track, which they believe would give their town's biggest business a boost.
In a recently-passed resolution, Mayor Michael J. Mahon and the Borough Council reiterated their long-standing support of the horse racing industry and "its $780 million of economic impact, $115 million in taxes, 56,000 acres of working agricultural landscape and open space and 7,000 jobs, including 910 directly related to Monmouth Park."
Lesniak has led the crusade for sports betting in New Jersey in the wake of the 2008 Monmouth County bust of an underground ring that scrounged up $35 million in illegal profits over the two years of its operation - which he sited as a waste of law enforcement dollars and a loss of revenue.
Four states -- Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon -- were grandfathered into PASPA before its passage in 1993, and New Jersey had a one year window of opportunity to be included, which was shut when the state legislature opted not to pursue it.
The state legislature again scuttled legalization when Lesniak attempted to reintroduce it in 2008. Sens. Lesniak and Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) then filed suit against the federal government along with a group of state casino and racetrack interests, citing PASPA as unconstitutional. The suit was tossed in March of this year, when a federal judge ruled the plaintiffs had no legal standing, and must first obtain the approval of New Jersey voters to amend the state constitution.
Opponents of the amendment included the National Football League.