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State senator says percentages favor New Jersey sports betting

A New Jersey state senator seems to think the odds favor statewide sports betting in the Garden State.

The state senator, Democrat Raymond Lesniak, predicted Thursday in Las Vegas that there is an 85 to 90 percent chance that a June court ruling will either allow or guide the way to legal sports betting in New Jersey.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia is expected to rule on the sports betting case June 26. The case stems from an injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in October, blocking a New Jersey law that would have allowed legalized betting at state-licensed casinos and racetracks.

“What I think is very unlikely, is that they’ll just throw the case out,” Lesniak said. At the very least, the senator believes the path to legalization will be laid out by the court.

The senator, who favors legal sports betting, spoke via Skype during the final 2015 iGaming North America session at Planet Hollywood Resort. The conference is the fifth of its kind, bringing together land-based and online gambling industries for education and networking opportunities. About 50 people attended the Las Vegas session.

“This circuit by the way, this panel, is the best shot we will have ever,” he said, explaining that the judges on the panel asked tough questions of the opponents of the New Jersey law.

The October injunction came after the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball sued in an attempt to block the bill Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a few days earlier, citing a 1992 federal sports gambling ban, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

“If the 2014 Sports Wagering Law is not declared unlawful … the proliferation of state-sponsored and approved sports gambling in Atlantic City casinos and at New Jersey racetracks will cause immediate and irreparable harm to the sports leagues,” the lawsuit said.

New Jersey has made multiple attempts to legalize sports betting. Three years ago, the Legislature and Christie approved sports betting after a referendum showed the public backed the issue by a 2-to-1 margin. The professional sports leagues and the Justice Department sued. The district and appellate courts subsequently upheld PASPA. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined New Jersey’s request to intervene.

David Purdum, a gaming industry reporter for ESPN, said he thinks the NFL is worried about what its fans will think.

“Publicly, they’re worried about the perception of the integrity of the game,” he said.

There’s little doubt legal sports gambling would do more good than harm in Atlantic City, Lesniak said.

The city recently lost 10,000 jobs after a quarter of its casinos closed, and he thinks the industry would propel the economy with high-tech and management jobs.

The Garden State would make “a lot more than Las Vegas is making,” Lesniak said, because of the “hotbed” of teams in the Northeast.

Nevada earned $3.9 billion in revenue from sports betting in 2014.

If things go the senator’s way, Purdum thinks it’s only a matter of time before other states follow suit.

“I think they will run to Congress quickly,” he said.

Contact Kimberly De La Cruz at Kdelacruz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Find her on Twitter: @KimberlyinLV

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