Chris Christie Unloads On Sports Leagues At Gaming Event In New Orleans

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The tone of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s luncheon speech at a gaming event in New Orleans on Friday was a familiar one — criticizing the sports leagues that are seeking some sort of “integrity fee,” “royalty,” or “official league data fee.”

But Christie had a twist for the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States event at Harrah’s: He told the attendees that the leagues already had their chance years ago.

“Many of you will have these folks coming into your state capitals, and somehow try to get something for free from you that they were unwilling to settle on during negotiations,” Christie said. “I was willing to settle any number of times and include in that settlement in the New Jersey law some type of fee for them to get it resolved. They laughed at me. They aren’t laughing anymore.”

Christie was referring to the period from 2012-’17, when five sports leagues were suing him and the state to prevent New Jersey from implementing a new sports betting law. After Christie left office at the start of last year, in May 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal law that granted Nevada a near-monopoly, on 10th Amendment grounds.

Christie also had a zinger for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whom the ex-governor said he ran across in New York City during the saga. Goodell “was giving me a hard time, saying I was crazy to be pursuing this, I was wasting the people’s money [in legal fees].” Christie said his response included the question, “How’d you let me get Ted Olson?” referring to the legendary attorney who ultimately won the day for New Jersey.

The improbable Jersey comeback

Ohio state Senator Bill Coley, the NCLGS president who introduced Christie, was teased by Christie in a good-natured way that incorporated one of Coley’s home state’s teams.

Before ultimately prevailing, New Jersey lost in U.S. District Court twice, before three-judge U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals panels twice, before the full Third Circuit once, and had its first plea to the U.S. Supreme Court denied.

“I felt like the Cleveland Browns — the old Browns,” Christie told Coley.

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After the speech, Christie was asked if he ever had spoken to President Donald Trump about federal sports betting intervention.

“The topic has never come up,” Christie said of the former Atlantic City casino mogul. “Since he was in the casino business, I would think he would be sympathetic to helping that industry.”

Christie also took on Congress regarding federal sports betting: “You can’t even get the government open. Stay the hell out of sports betting.”

Raves for Rebuck

David Rebuck, the respected chief gaming regulator in New Jersey, got a plug from Christie.

“I really love when you look at what David has done — well, first off, I hired him,” Christie said. “Rebuck is so good that my liberal successor [Phil Murphy] hasn’t fired him. He must be doing something right.”

One of the reasons to oppose proposed federal oversight of sports betting, Christie said, was due to all the “new technology coming.”

“New software or hardware — do you want to have to go to some federal agency to get approval for something that is in the best interests of your constituents?” Christie asked. “And then you’ll have to explain to your constituents why they don’t have it. This is a solution in search of a problem.”

No horse sense here, says Christie

Christie nearly shut down the Meadowlands Racetrack and Monmouth Park — then owned by taxpayers — in his first year in office because he philosophically opposed a then-$30 million annual purse subsidy provided by the Atlantic City casino owners to guarantee their continuing state monopoly.

Now it appears that the horsemen are headed for a direct taxpayer subsidy of $20 mm per year for the next five years. The bill easily passed the Senate last month, with an Assembly vote pending.

“This is what happens with the horse industry all the time,” Christie told NJ Online Gambling. “They said with sports gambling that they won’t need that [subsidy], and now they have sports gambling and they want [a subsidy]again. I don’t think in a time when we’ve got so many other fiscal needs that we should be subsidizing the horse racing industry. But the adult supervision [in Trenton]is out of town.”

One state legislator told Christie during a question-and-answer phase, “None of this would have happened without you,” producing applause from the group.

After a jovial response from Christie, the man said he also had a question.

“Oh, I thought you just wanted to kiss my ass!” Christie said.

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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