New Jersey is no longer alone in its quest for legalized sports betting in the U.S. Last month, the California state Senate approved SB 1390, which could legalize sports betting if the federal government changes its policy that forbids the practice in 46 states. While there is no champion as vocal and visible as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he’s probably pleased to have an ally with such power and substance as California. And while both states are discussing only land-based sports books, the New Jersey online gaming bill winding its way through the legislature would allow its online casinos to conduct the same games available in the land-based casinos.
Christie’s crusade to bring sports betting to New Jersey has been met with widespread support in Atlantic City, though most casino operators are taking a cautious approach before setting up an expensive sports wagering operation.
“I love the idea of playing offense and having the federal government have to play defense against us,” said Tony Rodio, CEO of Tropicana Entertainment Inc., which owns the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. “But I don’t know who’s going to want to be the first to open knowing they can shut you down. We’d need a lot more clarity before we invested lots of money in a sports book.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Aaron Gomes, executive vice president of operations at Resorts, who said the risk would have to be evaluated before his casino implemented a comprehensive sports book.
“It’s going to be hard to find someone willing to take the first jump,” Gomes said. “Particularly for companies that do business in multiple jurisdictions, they might not want to jeopardize their licenses in other states.”
Defying a federal ban, Christie is pushing to bring sports wagering to Atlantic City’s 12 casinos and the state’s four racetracks by the fall, before the start of the football season. Only four states—Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana—offer sports betting, having approved the betting before the 1991 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) went into effect. The governor signed a sports bill earlier this year that resulted from a referendum on the November ballot, where New Jersey residents supported sports betting by a 2-to-1 margin.
“Legalized sports gambling beyond where it already existed is prohibited,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Yahoo! Sports.
The California bill, authored by Senator Roderick Wright, would allow Indian casinos, card clubs or racetracks to apply for a permit to offer that form of gambling. Californians are known to bet extensively on sports, but do it through operations in Nevada, where it is a $2.6 billion industry—not to mention using illegal bookmakers or offshore online sports books, also illegal.
The federal ban was enacted in 1992.
The California Assembly will now take up the bill. Governor Jerry Brown has been lukewarm to the proposal, but has not indicated outright opposition to legalized sports betting in the state.