TRENTON — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday signed into law a bill allowing sports betting at casinos, horse tracks and over the internet, successfully ending a seven-year effort to legitimize a black-market industry that could be worth billions of dollars.
The governor’s approval of the measure, likely to prompt the first bets by the end of the week, is the culmination of a legal fight that cost the state $9 million since voters approved the activity in a 2011 referendum. It comes a month after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state, striking down a federal prohibition on state-sanctioned sports betting.
“Today, we’re finally making the dream of legalized sports betting a reality for New Jersey,” Murphy said in a statement, saying he was “thrilled” to act on the measure because it would boost the long-term prospects of casinos and horse tracks. “This is the right move for New Jersey and it will strengthen our economy.”
Both houses of the state Legislature passed the bill, NJ A 4111 (18R), in unanimous votes on Thursday, putting New Jersey in position to be the second state to permit athletic wagering following last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling. Delaware began taking bets last week.
Murphy took several days to act on the legislation, saying on Friday that his people needed to give a close review and prompting an outcry from both Democrats and Republicans eager to getting betting up and running.
POLITICO reported Monday that the governor’s staff had reservations about part of the bill written to allow sports betting at the former site of Garden State Park Racetrack in Cherry Hill — a horse racing track that was closed in 2001. The former track is now the site of a high-end retail and residential complex developed by Jack Morris and Joseph Marino, who have ties to South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross.
Sources also said the governor was considering using the bill as leverage in his budget negotiations with legislative leaders, but he appears to have decided against doing so.
Murphy ultimately signed the measure in private without the fanfare of a press conference, though he may join a ceremony later this week when the first bets are placed.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, who was a party to the legal case that ended in last month’s Supreme Court ruling, said the state’s “efforts will pay off.”
“We led the fight for sports betting and it is now happening,” Sweeney (D- Gloucester) said in a statement. “We overcame multiple legal obstacles and withstood the determined efforts of opponents with a decisive victory in the Supreme Court. We can now capitalize on the opportunities we worked for with a new sector of sports gaming that will help create jobs, generate economic activity and be an important boost to the state’s casinos and racetracks.”
Still, it will be a few days before betting is up and running. At Monmouth Park Racetrack, likely the best positioned to take the first bets, operator Dennis Drazin has said he is ready to begin immediately. But the state must first approve new rules that will allow for licensing changes.
The New Jersey Racing Commission will hold a meeting Wednesday to review the new sports betting regulations, the governor’s office said. Once the commission adopts the regulations, Murphy will ratify the decision and tracks will be able to apply for temporary waivers to begin taking bets, the governor’s office said.
Pending approval, Monmouth Park plans to hold a ceremony on Thursday — with Murphy and other politicians — to begin taking bets.
“Today is a great day for New Jersey,” Drazin said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the legislation, Governor Murphy has taken decisive and swift action in the best interests of New Jersey’s economy and sports fans across our state. I look forward to the Governor joining us at Monmouth Park Racetrack on Thursday morning to usher in a new era for New Jersey by placing the first bet.”
Under the final legislation, Atlantic City casinos, horse tracks and two former racetracks will be able to apply for a license with the Division of Gaming Enforcement, which would be the sole agency to regulate all the sports pool operators. Employees who need licenses to work for sports wagering operators would be licensed by the Casino Control Commission.
The legislation requires bettors to be at least 21 years old and prohibits betting on high school events. It also prohibits betting on collegiate athletic events that take place in New Jersey, and on any sports event that includes a New Jersey college.
The law imposes an 8.5 percent gross revenue tax on betting at casinos and tracks, while online gaming revenue would be subject to a 13 percent tax — a structure meant to motivate players to visit brick-and-mortar establishments. Both forms of betting would be subject to an additional 1.25 percent tax that would either go to host municipalities and counties where a race track is located, or to the “Meet AC” program that promotes tourism in the Atlantic City area.
The final legislation did not include a number of provisions that were sought by professional sports leagues, most notably a .25 percent “integrity fee” that would be used to help protect the games from corruption. The leagues argued that legalized sports betting will require even more efforts to avoid cheating, costing their organizations revenue.
The NBA, PGA and MLB all sent representatives to Trenton to make the case, even bringing in former Mets and Yankees pitcher Al Leiter, but their arguments fell on deaf ears.
The NBA and MLB — joined by the NCAA, NFL and NHL — spent millions of dollars fighting the state, leading to last month’s Supreme Court ruling.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, one of the sponsors, declared Monday “a marvelous day for New Jersey.”
“This will be a big boost for our economy,” Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) said in a statement. “This will bring more people from in-state, out-of-state, and abroad to Atlantic City and to our state’s racetracks. This will bring jobs to our state and help put an end to illegal wagering. I can’t hide my excitement for what’s in store.”
Matt Friedman contributed to this report.
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