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Sports-wagering execs watching outcome of N.J. legal battle

Sports betting will probably never be regulated federally anytime soon.

But industry executives believe that a positive outcome of New Jersey’s court battle to legalize wagering on sports in the Garden State could set the stage for other states to legalize the industry.

“New Jersey’s challenge to (the federal ban) is the best place to start,” said Jeff Burge, chief financial officer with Cantor Gaming. “I expect it will be around in the courts for a while.”

Only four states allow sports betting, and Nevada is the only state where bettors can wager on individual sporting events, from soccer to basketball and football.

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports betting in all states except for those that allowed it in some form. The federal law gave New Jersey an extra year to legalize sports wagering, a deadline it failed to meet.

The other states that have legalized sports wagering are Oregon, Montana and Delaware.

Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S., said New Jersey was “a big focus for our industry in the US.”

“No one knows how this will play out,” said Asher. “Outside of the courts, it’s not realistic that Congress will move in the short-term … too much going one.”

New Jersey voted 2-to-1 on a referendum to allow sports betting. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., signed the bill this year, allowing sports wagering at casinos and horse racing tracks.

Bookmakers in Las Vegas have praised Christie for tackling the issue but are worried about federal government interference. Asher said he had no doubts that one day sports betting would be “widespread and legal in the United States.”

Art Manteris, vice president race and sports book operations at Station Casinos LLC; Nicky Senyard, CEO of Income Access; and Anthony Coles, senior partner with the law firm of Jeffrey Green Russell; joined Asher and Burge on Tuesday for a panel discussion on sports betting at Global Gaming Expo 2012 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Asher said a court date is scheduled for this month. The National Football League, National Basketball League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the state’s efforts to allow gambling on their games.

Senyard said there is already a “very big illegal market,” which could be significantly reduced with the legalization of sports wagering.

“We’ve seen this as a driver of a lot of growth,” especially in Europe,” Senyard said. That growth has been seen in an increase in jobs, charitable donations and taxes.

She said legalized sports betting in New Jersey would lead to other states legalizing the industry. Senyard said it wasn’t about “creating a new market,” instead it was legalizing an illegal market that already exists.

But will New Jersey be successful in overturning the federal ban?

“It’s a very tough call,” Manteris said. “I look at it as a bookmaker. I would love to set the odds. Right now I would make the NFL and (Justice Department) a very slight favorite.”

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter.

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