Passage of the lone statewide proposition on Tuesday's election ballot would amend the New Jersey 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 is 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.
Opponents include the National Football League, whose chief spokesman, Brian McCarthy, told the Asbury Park Press last month , “We have been an active proponent of federal and state legislation that prohibits the spread of legal sports gambling. We continue to support the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which became law in 1992 and prohibits states from operating a lottery or betting scheme based on pro or college games.”
Other opponents, including the Gloucester County Times, say a "yes" vote might commit taxpayers to fund the legal battle to fight the federal ban, which they believe should be paid for by gaming interests and other private contributors.
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."
, favoring a "racino" project which they believe would draw crowds from New York City.
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.
"I said 'this is ridiculous.' It's a waste of law enforcement dollars and it's also a loss of revenues for the state for us not to have legalized sports gambling," Lesniak said.
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.