As voters decide college adjustment, NJ sports betting rebels look back


On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the New Jersey referendum which ultimately revolutionized the state of legal sports betting in the United States, its founding fathers reminded New Jersey Online Gambling Monday their pre-election confidence in the result.

Regardless of whether a federal law passed by Congress in 1992, the Law on the Protection of Professional and Amateur Sport, expressly prohibits Las Vegas-style sports betting outside of Nevada.

Voters statewide, sports betting supporters believed, would thumb their noses at such a restriction. They were right when voters approved legalization in November 2011 by a 60-40 margin.

“We did the polls, and we knew he would win overwhelmingly,” said former state senator Ray Lesniak, considered the cornerstone of the movement. “I think it was the right thing to do, and it’s something that people wanted to be able to do.”

It was picked up by Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin, who joined other thoroughbred riders from 2012 to 2018 to defend against a lawsuit filed by the NFL and other sports organizations.

“I thought it was a slam dunk, no doubt about it,” Drazin said. “There had been a study done by Congress, I believe, in 1999, showing the extent of illegal betting in the country to be around $ 400 million.”

More confident memories

Assembly Member Ralph Caputo, a leader in state gambling issues through decades of work as an Atlantic City casino manager, said Lesniak had convinced him of the merits of measuring the ballot.

“I was always confident it would pass,” Caputo recalled. “We didn’t even need a lot of publicity. The resources were there in the media, and the pros and cons were debated. “

Joe Brennan Jr. (no link to author) was the former president of the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association who worked with Lesniak on the cusp of efforts to legalize sports betting in the state.

“We started this effort in New Jersey in December 2008, because the numbers showed that was the state where [a referendum] was most likely to be successful, ”said Brennan.

“Fairleigh Dickinson [University] had carried out early polls on the issue in the weeks leading up to election day, and they were 2-1 in favor. I was very confident that we were going to win, so much so that in a way I was looking beyond the vote for what was to come.

Behind the reluctance to include NJ varsity games

Given that residents of the state have adopted the legalization of sports betting overwhelmingly, years after they also voted in 1976 to make New Jersey the first state outside Nevada to legalize casinos, it may seem that the issue of this year’s poll is a given.

Betting on all sports, from the NFL to Russian table tennis, is now legal, with one small exception: No legal bets are allowed on games involving college teams in New Jersey, or on games played by varsity players. ‘other colleges within state limits.

The question in Tuesday’s poll is about removing this modest restriction.

At the time the sports betting law was passed, Caputo recalled, there was “a bone of contention” among lawmakers over betting on events such as a Rutgers football game or Seton basketball. Lobby. PASPA had been sponsored by the highly respected former US Senator Bill Bradley, who had been a legendary basketball player at Princeton.

Many lawmakers are also alumni of these schools, and university leaders were wary of the idea of ​​state-sanctioned betting on school games.

State Senator Paul Sarlo, who represents the Meadowlands District, earlier this year pioneered the concept of a ballot question to allow betting on major events in the state, such as basketball games. ball in the 2025 March Madness East Regional which was awarded by the NCAA at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Sarlo then made inquiries with the NCAA and major universities and found that with the repeal of PASPA by the United States Supreme Court in 2018, resistance to university betting had practically disappeared. He therefore broadened the bill to also include competitions for state universities.

Experts’ forecasts

“In the absence of real public advocacy from any group, I predict it as a tossup,” Sarlo said. “Unfortunately, a loss in this contest would result in a significant loss of revenue for the state in the future.”

Lesniak called the vote a “dead end” likely to be decided by fewer voters than the number of voters choosing a candidate for governor at the polls.

“I’m surprised he’s so close,” Brennan said. “As an operator looking for a New Jersey betting license, I hope this will pass – not just for business, but because when college New Jersey matches can only be wagered with offshore sports betting or with the bookmaker on the street, this is when there can be integrity issues. Letting regulated sports betting take this step would be the best way to keep things level. . “

Caputo said “there seems to be more resistance to this vote, for whatever reason. I’m just glad we did what we did [in 2011]. “

Drazin was the most confident, saying, “I think it’s going to pass – the polls are improving, so we’re a lot closer than we were. “

Movement in the polls

Indeed, a July poll by FDU a quarter of registered voters said betting on college sports should be allowed, with half saying it should continue to be banned. The others said they weren’t sure or didn’t want to answer the question.

Of course, the question was arguably misleading, as betting on college sports in New Jersey has been permitted since 2018, with the exception of gambling in the state.

In another FDU poll released on Friday, 39% supported the poll question and 41% opposed it – well within the poll’s margin of error.

Dan Cassino, professor of government and politics and executive director of the poll, echoed Lesniak’s analysis.

“There hasn’t been a lot of publicity around this voting question, and a lot of people are going to miss it or skip it. It is much closer than before, and there are a lot of voters who will not make a decision on this until they are in the polls.

Photo: Shutterstock


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