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Ocean County Decides: Legalizing Sports Betting in NJ

Atlantic City
Flickr user MoToMo

Almost 20 years ago the federal government gave New Jersey one year to pass a bill to allow sports betting, but the deadline came and went and no such measure was approved. Under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act it is currently unconstitutional for the Garden State to legalize sports wagering in casinos and racetracks, but tomorrow voters will be asked in a ballot question if they support the idea.

The measure’s sponsor is confident voters will approve it and he says that’s just the first step in the process.

State Senator Ray Lesniak says, “We’ll pass legislation allowing sports betting in New Jersey and then the Justice Department will have to challenge our ability to do that.” Lesniak is also confident that the state will win any legal challenge brought by the federal government because, “They created a monopoly that is unconstitutional which we’re going to challenge once this referendum passes.”

Lesniak’s law firm filed suit against the sports betting ban, but the case was dismissed in March when a judge ruled that Lesniak and State Senate President Steve Sweeney did not have the legal standing to be plaintive in such a suit.

According to Lesniak, the ban puts New Jersey and 45 other states at a competitive disadvantage because it allows only four states in the nation (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana) to have a monopoly.

It’s just so unfair that during Super Bowl week or (NCAA) Final Four weekend you can’t get into Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a ghost town,” explains Lesniak. “Sports betting will provide some good, very high paying jobs that are technologically oriented and it will boost our tourism.”

The National Football League has been steadfastly opposed to sports wagering in the Garden State for fear that it could compromise the integrity of the league.

A statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind released in the spring shows voters are likely to approve the measure tomorrow.

53% of voters say they favor making sports-betting legal at Atlantic City casinos and racetracks, while 30% oppose it. Another 17% say they are not sure. The same question measured statewide in February found a similar percentage opposing it (32%) but more voters (62%) favoring it. The change is in the percentage of those not sure, from 6% to 17%.

The question is not high on the radar of voters,” explains Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll. “Two-thirds (66%) say they have heard little or nothing about it. The good news for those who favor sports betting is that it is not a partisan issue.” About as many Democrats favor it (56%) as Republicans (52%).

Woolley says, “This probably isn’t a topic husbands want to bring up with their wives over the dinner table, because there is a significant difference in how men and women feel about this issue.”

One in five men (19%) say they have “a lot” of interest in the question, and they are twice as likely as women (10%) to say they have “a lot” of interest in the question. Nearly two thirds of men (63%) favor legalizing sports-betting, but fewer than half of women (43%) favor it.

Younger voters are far more likely to favor legalization than older voters. Almost four out of five (78%) of young voters, ages 18 to 34, favor legalization, contrasting sharply with those older. Middle-aged voters, from 35 to 54, favor the proposition by a 5-to-3 margin (52%-33%). Older voters, 55 and over, favor it by a slimmer margin of 45%-35% with one in five not sure (20%).

Those who say they have a lot of interest in the issue, favor legalization by more than two to one (66%-29%).

As always,” says Woolley, “a lot depends on who actually shows up to vote, who reads the fine print at the bottom of the ballot, and who understands the obscure language of the question.”

The poll of 711 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cell phones from March 29 through April 4, 2011, and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

Bob Giles, the Director, of the New Jersey Division of Elections says before heading out to cast your ballot tomorrow, “you can go to our website to see if you’re registered to vote prior to going to the polls – you can find your polling place by going to our website – which is njelections.org.

He says his Division has been working hard “to promote and get the word out that there is an election tomorrow and that if you want to be heard, that’s the way to be heard.”

Giles also points out “if somebody is not able to vote tomorrow, they do have until 3 o’clock today- the day before the election – to go to their county clerk’s office and get a vote by mail ballot.”

 

 

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