by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Hmmm. It’s been a while since we’ve talked about the sports wagering landscape on these pages. More specifically, about any attempts to legalize the exercise in locales other than Nevada and, to a lesser extent, the weekly NFL parlay cards available in select Delaware and Oregon locations.

But times are changing. Which is why everyone in the sports wagering industry is paying very close attention to developments in New Jersey, all thanks to some bold thinking championed by none other than Gov. Chris Christie, who has stepped to the plate on the subject like no politician in memory.

You see, Christie not only wants New Jersey to begin accepting sports wagers, he’s put the wheels in motion to legalize the whole operation by this coming January. At the moment, the Garden State is in the process of issuing sports gaming licenses to casinos and race tracks in the state.

“If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us,” Christie said last May, channeling some of the same bravado as once upon a time did one of the Garden State’s favorite sons, the Bayonne Bleeder himself, Chuck Wepner. “Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes. But I have every confidence we’re going to be successful.”

New Jersey has been at the gaming epicenter before, generating enormous coverage in the ‘70s when becoming one of the first non-Nevada states to permit casino gaming, which was also an attempt to breathe some life into a then-dying Atlantic City. Which would soon become the Mecca of East Coast gaming, as plush new hotels and casinos began to appear up and down the decaying Boardwalk.

But now Christie and the forward-thinkers in the Garden State want to begin accepting sports bets, too. For whatever reason, New Jersey pols were asleep at the switch when select states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana) were “grandfathered” by federal law, as part of the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, to accept sports wagers. (Indian casinos were not included, either.) Since then, however, the Garden State has decided that it wants in on the action, although it took a politician as bold as the I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think Christie to actually ignite the fuse.

Of course, Christie is girding for court challenges from all of the major North American leagues who outwardly continue to reject any further legalization of sports wagering. That legal action may wind up coming from a consortium of sports organizations, the NCAA and NFL chief among them. If the justice department doesn’t step in, then expect the leagues to try in federal court.

But if you’re old enough to have read some of the long-ago editorials by TGS founder Mort Olshan, you know those objections are dubious at best in nature. Especially from the almighty NFL, whose ownership ranks in the past have been filled with all sorts of characters with backgrounds in shady enterprises such as race tracks (the Bidwills, Rooneys, and DeBartolos immediately come to mind) and waste management, not to mention several other loathsome sorts with underworld ties (a list that is long and distinguished). A group which has surely never been the collection of Little Lord Fauntleroy types that the NFL P.R. machine might have the public try to believe.

As Mort would often say, the inner-workings of the NFL were always about as anti-gaming as they were pro-terrorist. Pro sports ownership, the NFL in particular, has always recognized the value of sports betting, whether it publically admits it or not.

And Christie also knows that he can shove back with the weight of public support, which, if mobilized properly, could present quite a force in the debate.

Indeed, Christie’s challenge is different from anything we have witnessed before. While the pro leagues have always been able to live with legalized wagering in far-away Nevada, or the parlay cards in Oregon or for sale at Delaware Park, Christie is now effectively pushing the envelope right into the face of the NFL and all sports leagues (NCAA included). Christie’s plan to not only have the Atlantic City casinos, but also the state’s race tracks, begin accepting bets means that a handful of dog tracks and major horse racing venues such as Freehold, Monmouth, and the Meadowlands, the latter right on the doorstep to New York City and sharing a parking lot with the new Met Life Stadium, home of the NFL Giants and Jets, will be taking action on the games. And most of those race tracks are even more accessible to the huge population bases in the region than is Atlantic City, itself not too inconvenient from many East Coast hubs where it sits along the shore.

Granted, the NFL’s potential influence in federal court cannot be minimized, but Christie will not be fighting with a hand tied behind his back. If anything, all parties are going to have to acknowledge that legalization discourages the kind of real trouble (point shaving, game fixing) the leagues understandably fear.

And what the NFL and NCAA call “evil” might instead be a building block. It’s no secret that NFL and college football and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, in particular, have benefited greatly from gambling for generations. And what of the various “fantasy” leagues in which the sports entities themselves are now involved? Do they think the thousands (millions?) who participate in those endeavors are doing so for no reward?

Countless numbers of fans wager on the games. Only now, outside of Nevada and those few other locales, that activity is currently unregulated and untaxed.

But why?

Perhaps it’s best to look for answers overseas, where sports gaming is legalized and regulated, for some guidance. Recently, we consulted with Randy Haynes, a veteran European sports gaming industry executive and Senior Consultant to OPAP, the world’s most successful sports book, for some further enlightenment on the subject, gained from a unique perspective.

“The sports gaming sector holds almost unlimited potential for many different bodies and organizations, from the sports authorities and stake holders, media, Governments and regulators, and can be a massive contributor to sustainable economic growth,” says Haynes. “If only the various factions can see past their self-interests.

“And there is mass appeal and export value of the USA’s four major sport leagues. Why not maximize those interest levels and through the association of sports betting allow those markets to grow and import billions of dollars of revenues into the USA?

“I am on record as stating sports gaming will eventually mirror the scale and complexity of the global financial markets; but with the added ingredients of full transparency, public scrutiny and accountability. And, of course, far more people have a passion for sport than the machinations of the Dow and Nasdaq.

“My experience and simple arithmetic suggests that there may be as many as 500,000 jobs waiting to be created in the short term in the US and billions of dollars of income and taxes generated, if New Jersey is able to commence the reform of a sector that for too long has been cheapened and vilified.

“There are challenges, as always, with any venture that involves opinion and risk, and there is a debate about whether margins will warrant the investment. But in a world of opportunities, why is this most obvious and scalable of sectors not fully appreciated?

“Governor Christie and anyone that wants to truly examine the sector warrants support. The time for serious debate and reform is long overdue.”

We’re right with you, Randy.

Return To Home Page