Gaming companies praise New Jersey's sports betting initiative

23 January 2012

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Twenty years after New Jersey failed to meet a federal deadline to legalize sports wagering, Gov. Chris Christie is betting his signature of a bill legalizing the industry there will force Congress or the courts to overturn the federal ban.

Gaming companies in Las Vegas applauded the move.

"It is time we had an adult conversation about sports betting beyond Nevada and Delaware," said Joe Asher, president and CEO of Brandywine Bookmaking LLC., owner of Lucky's sports books in Nevada.

Asher said Christie's decision to sign a bill Tuesday into law legalizing sports betting in New Jersey was "not a surprise." He said the first-term Republican governor endorsed legalized sports wagering in a speech two months ago at the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication.

"So this whole idea that gambling on NFL games is not going on every Sunday everywhere is foolish," the governor said in November. "It's foolish. It's going on everywhere except now it's being handled by criminals who are benefiting from it."

Asher agreed, saying it was time to regulate and tax sports betting in the United States.

"To pretend it's not happening is not reality," he said.

John English, senior vice president with American Wagering Inc., which operates Leroy's Horse and Sports Place in Nevada, said Christie's efforts will help curb the billions being spent illegally with offshore books.

"We feel he has a tough fight with the federal government ... but he is gaining great state-level support," English said. "We feel that if New Jersey is successful it will open the door for other states to consider legal sports betting as opposed to letting the people of their states risk betting illegally with unscrupulous companies that don't benefit our country."

New Jersey now has two options: Ask a judge to toss out the federal law or wait until Congress overturns the ban.

Expect New Jersey to sue to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which effectively outlawed sports betting in all but a few states. Sports lotteries in Oregon, Delaware, and Montana were exempt, as were licensed sports books in Nevada.

Also excluded from act are jai alai, horse racing and dog racing.

Congress provided a one-year window of opportunity from the effective date of the act on Jan. 1, 1993, for states that operated licensed casinos for the previous 10 years to enact laws permitting sports wagering.

New Jersey failed to take advantage of the exception to pass sports betting.

Messages left with Christie's office were not returned. As of Thursday, the state had yet to file a federal lawsuit challenging the act.

"The Division of Gaming Enforcement is poised and ready to take whatever steps are necessary to effectuate sports wagering in Atlantic City," David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, said in a statement Wednesday.

Rebuck said gaming regulators would work with lawmakers and the casino industry to ensure the state "gains a reputation nationwide for effective regulation and oversight of sports wagering."

New Jersey sports betting would be taxed at the 8 percent rate casinos pay. Another 1.25 percent would go to the Atlantic City development fund. Sports books in Nevada are taxed at 6.75 percent rate.

Cantor Gaming and the American Gaming Association declined to comment.

"We view the approval of sports betting as a definite positive for Atlantic City, which when coupled with continued capital investments into existing properties as well as with the opening of Revel Atlantic City should drive incremental visitation to Atlantic City," Bill Lerner, a principal with Union Gaming Group in Las Vegas, said in a research report on Wednesday.

Based on several factors, including sports bet per visitors, Lerner estimates Atlantic City could generate annual sports book revenues of $37 million to $60 million. Atlantic City reported $3.32 billion in gaming revenues for 2011, down 36.4 percent from a peak of $5.22 billion in 2006.

Based on a five-year average sports book hold in Las Vegas, Union Gaming estimates total sports book revenues of $787 million to $1.3 billion in New Jersey.

During 2010, gamblers wagered $2.7 billion on sporting events in Nevada. Despite the large amount wagered, most were returned in the form of winnings, as gross gaming revenues were $151.1 million, 5.5 percent of the total amount wagered.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board will release sports book revenues for 2011 next month.

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