Voters appeared to be overwhelmingly approving a statewide referendum Tuesday that will change the state constitution to enable the legalization of gambling on professional and certain college sporting events—but only if a current federal ban is overturned.
The Star-Ledger was reporting that with 84% of the ballots counted, the measure was winning, 61 percent to 31 percent.
The amendment was supported by Oceanport Borough, home of Monmouth Park racetrack, as well as Gov. Chris Christie and State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who argues that once the referendum is approved, it will only be a matter of months before the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is ruled unconstitutional.
Lesniak has led the crusade for sports betting in New Jersey in the wake of the 2008 Monmouth County bust of an underground ring that scrounged up $35 million in illegal profits over the two years of its operation—which he cited as a waste of law enforcement dollars and a loss of revenue.
Four states—Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon—were grandfathered in to PASPA before its passage in 1993, and New Jersey had a one year window of opportunity to be included, which was shut when the state legislature opted not to pursue it.
The state Legislature again scuttled legalization when Lesniak attempted to reintroduce it in 2008. Sens. Lesniak and Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) then filed suit against the federal government along with a group of state casino and racetrack interests, citing PASPA as unconstitutional. The suit was tossed out in March of this year, when a federal judge ruled the plaintiffs had no legal standing, and must first obtain the approval of New Jersey voters to amend the state constitution.
Now that voters have approved that amendment, supporters of sports betting can head back to court.
Opponents of the amendment included the National Football League, which argued that gambling should not be allowed on sporting events.