Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Bergen Record – For the seven-and-a-half years since New Jersey voters passed a constitutional amendment authorizing sports betting, the state Senate and the Governor’s Office have been fighting an expensive legal battle against the professional sports leagues to implement sports wagering.
Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 last week to uphold our sports betting law.

The win in the nation’s highest court is a major victory that will propel economic growth, create jobs and boost state revenues. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

For the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks, legalized sports betting will provide the additional revenues needed to boost purses and preserve thousands of jobs. That, in turn, ensures the continued economic viability of New Jersey’s horse-breeding industry, which plays a vital role in preserving open space.

For Atlantic City, which is experiencing a rebirth with the new Hard Rock and Ocean Resort casinos opening on the sites of the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal and Revel properties, sports betting promises to draw a new clientele of fantasy sports bettors. It will also help transform Atlantic City into a destination for high rollers who had to fly to Las Vegas or Reno for big sports-betting weekends when the Nevada casinos effectively enjoyed a monopoly for decades.

For New Jersey taxpayers, sports betting will generate tens of millions of additional revenue to underwrite programs for seniors citizens and the disabled, once the Meadowlands, Monmouth Park and the casinos are up and running with on-site and on-line betting and a new sports betting hall on the site of the former Garden State Racetrack in Cherry Hill.

But that’s just part of the benefit to the state budget because sports betting will generate additional sales and hotel tax revenues, as well as income taxes and other economic spinoff from the new jobs created.

And for property taxpayers in Bergen, Atlantic, Monmouth and Camden counties where the new sports betting facilities will be located on the sites of racetracks and casinos, the bill provides a share of the tax revenue to both the host county and municipality to hold down property taxes.

For the leadership of the New Jersey Senate, which backed the state Attorney General’s Office in its eight-year lawsuit to legalize sports betting, for former Gov. Chris Christie, and particularly for my former colleague, former Sen. Ray Lesniak, who made the sports betting fight his personal mission, the victory is both sweet and long overdue.

New Jersey voters passed a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in November 2011, and the Legislature voted on a bipartisan basis to approve legislation authorizing sports betting at casinos and current and former racetrack sites.

The professional sports leagues immediately went to court to challenge New Jersey’s law, citing the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that limited sports betting to just four states – a classic federal overreach into a field of law that traditionally had been regulated solely by individual states.

It cost New Jersey taxpayers $9 million in legal fees to fight this case from the U.S. District Court to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to the United States Supreme Court before we finally won.

But the cost of the $8.8 million in legal fees pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars in lost state revenue, and the millions in activity and thousands of jobs that New Jerseyans would have held over the past eight years if the professional sports leagues had not intervened.

That is why it is so infuriating that those same sports leagues are now lobbying New Jersey’s Governor and Legislature for “integrity fees” to guarantee that their games are “played fairly.” We thought that’s what they were doing all along.

This is nothing short of a last-second Hail Mary pass by the leagues that cost us millions to try to make a fast buck and get something for nothing. As I wrote to the governors and legislative leaders of the other 49 states today, I am prepared to pay the professional leagues exactly what Nevada’s sport books have been paying them for decades: Nothing.

The last thing we need is to give the professional sports leagues “integrity fees” that provide them with a financial interest in jacking up sports betting revenue by putting their thumbs on the scale to ensure that big-market teams that will bring in bigger betting revenues get to play in their championship games.

It is my hope that both the Senate and Assembly will pass legislation setting the parameters for sports betting in New Jersey on June 7, and I expect the bill to be signed into law promptly by the Governor.

That legislation puts the responsibility for the regulation of sports betting where it should be – with the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Division of Gaming Enforcement that have done such a fine professional job ensuring the integrity of our casino industry for the last 40 years.

Senator Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is president of the New Jersey Senate.

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