by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Here we go...again?

While the NFL and Roger Goodell have been occupied on several battle fronts regarding Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and various abuse-related storylines over the past two weeks, New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie have mounted another less-publicized assault, with plenty of implications for the league...even if the national media have overlooked this re-emerging storyline as they remain preoccupied with other recent developments.

For those overwhelmed with the recent Goodell-related specifics, or unable to find coverage of anything else on the front page of the USA TODAY sports section, New Jersey, at the behest of Christie, has recently decided to proceed with plans to accept Las Vegas-style sports betting at its racetracks and casinos. This despite the US Supreme Court in the summer rejecting New Jersey’s appeal of earlier federal court rulings regarding the state’s recent challenge to PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act), a 1992 law which allowed select states (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana), but not New Jersey, to be “grandfathered� by the feds to accept sports wagers. (TGS has covered developments in this storyline over the past two years, including a three-part report last fall, all of which can still be accessed on our webpages at www.goldsheet.com.)

So, what has happened that prompted the Garden State to go ahead and push forward with its own sports betting plans in light of the US Supreme Court declining its earlier appeal?

Well, according to New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), there is a loophole in federal law that prevents the state only from licensing and regulating sports gambling, thus opening the door for privately-owned sports wagering at the state’s racetracks and casinos. Lesniak’s interpretation was wholeheartedly endorsed by the state’s Senate and Assembly within a week of the US Supreme Court’s June rebuff and caused a re-examination of the issue by legal scholars, who are now wondering whether the Justice Department’s own legal briefs that maintained federal law does not “obligate New Jersey to leave in place the state-law prohibitions against sports gambling that it had chosen to adopt prior� to PASPA's implementation in fact invites New Jersey and other states to begin accepting sports wagers.

Thus, as far as the Garden State is concerned, the new Lesniak measure would repeal old state laws barring sports betting in New Jersey--and allow private companies to open wagering operations that do not require state regulation.

Lesniak’s legislation, however, took a roundabout route in the summer, rejected twice by Christie before the governor did an about-face earlier this month and signaled a “go� for sports betting in the state.

Of course, cynics, of which Christie has many, believe the governor is simply playing politics and using the sports gaming issue as a last resort to deflect criticism that has come his way due to recent developments in Atlantic City, which has seen four of its twelve casinos shut down this year. Although Christie might be acting too late to save the shuttered resorts in Atlantic City, the governor is also a creature of the polls, and many political operatives believe he was forced into some sort of action after thousands have been put out of work in recent months due to the closure of several major gaming establishments along the storied Boardwalk.

Some regional observers, however, are wondering just how much of a life preserver sports wagering is going to be for New Jersey, Atlantic City in particular. Remember, when the state introduced casino gaming in the mid-1970s as the catalyst to jump-start the blighted old resort town on the shore, there was no similar competition along the entirety of the eastern seaboard. But in recent years those dynamics have changed considerably, with casino-style gaming opening now all over the region.

Beyond the various racetracks, such as nearby Delaware Park and Charles Town that introduced slots several years ago, and Maryland’s recent entry into the marketplace, it has been Pennsylvania’s full-blown adoption of casino-style gaming that has been perhaps the biggest blow to Atlantic City. Indeed, when then-Governor Ed Rendell decided to effectively act as a basketball referee tossing up a jump-ball for various gaming concerns to open establishments in the Philadelphia area, Atlantic City was dealt a significant, if not lethal, hit. Patrons in the Delaware Valley, always a prime target of Atlantic City resorts, now have their own “full-service� gaming establishments, including one at the modern Harrah’s Philadelphia in Bo Ryan’s nearby hometown of Chester, complete with a harness-racing track and a full casino, featuring not only slots, but table games as well...everything and more one would find at the shore resorts without having to fight the heavy weekend traffic on the Atlantic City Expressway.

Even Christie’s critics, however, would have to acknowledge that the governor’s recent adoption of the Lesniak measure would have to be categorized as employment-friendly, as introduction of sports wagering, even if outside the auspices of the state, would act as some sort (though not sure how much) of a job generator. Though, as of yet, no sports bets have been accepted in the state.

Interestingly, shortly after Christie’s latest attempt to let the sports-wagering genie out of its bottle in the Garden State, none other than NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that legalized sports betting was not only “inevitable,� but that he would have no reservations about his league participating. At the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit earlier this month in New York, Silver made his, and a apparently the NBA’s, opinion on the matter quite clear.

“While the NBA did not support New Jersey Governor Christie’s plan to implement sports gambling, the league does expect to face and profit from the broadening of legal sports gaming in the U.S.,� Silver said. “It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada, and we will ultimately participate in that.

“If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it,�
Silver added. “That’s where we’re going to see it pay dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to bet on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.�

Is Silver’s statement a game-changer? Stay tuned.

(As always, there is more to discuss on this matter, especially with expected developments that could include further court rulings, likely by mid-October as New Jersey girds to soon accept bets. In two weeks, we follow up with Part II of Meanwhile, In the Garden State...after we look at the upcoming MLB Playoffs in next week’s TGS Issue No. 6).

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