NJ Might Increase Casino Fines For Allowing Betting On Off-Limits College Events

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New Jersey’s sports betting laws clearly ban wagering on college sporting events involving in-state universities, or on such events taking place in New Jersey even if the schools are not based in the state. But three Atlantic City casinos ran afoul of the law last fall — and now a state lawmaker wants to make such casinos pay a stiffer price if they err again.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, a Democrat from Essex County, wants the fine for such transgressions to rise from the current $2,000 penalty to anywhere from $20,000 to a maximum of $100,000.

“It’s insulting, really, for any of them to ignore the clear will of what the people voted for,” Caputo told NJ Online Gambling on Monday. “The Division of Gaming Enforcement does a terrific job, but all they have right now is a slap on the wrist.”

Resorts Casino and Golden Nugget each were fined last fall for allowing wagering on Rutgers-Indiana and Princeton-Columbia football games, while Resorts additionally was fined for taking bets on a Rutgers-Michigan football game and a Rutgers-Eastern Michigan men’s basketball game.

Caesars, meanwhile, received a $2,000 fine for taking bets on a Rutgers-Kansas football game.

“They blame a computer glitch, but come on now,” said Caputo, whose bill unanimously passed a state Assembly committee on Thursday.

The bill also would penalize racetrack operators for the same transgression.

Caputo knows the casino industry

Caputo, 78, has a unique role, having spent the bulk of his career as a marketing executive for Atlantic City casinos, including Tropicana, Showboat, and Trump Castle. Caputo was a Republican Assembly member from 1968-’72, then took a 36-year “sabbatical” before returning to the Statehouse in 2008.

“This is not personal for me; I just know what we voted for,” Caputo said.

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As Caputo notes, the 2011 ballot question offered to voters statewide was clear, including this interpretive statement: “This constitutional amendment would authorize the Legislature to pass laws allowing sports wagering at Atlantic City casinos and at racetracks. Wagers could be placed on professional, certain college, or amateur sport or athletic events. However, wagers could not be placed on college games that take place in New Jersey or in which a New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the game takes place. A wager could be placed at a casino or racetrack either in-person or from any other location through an account wagering system that uses telephone, Internet or other means.”

Why can’t someone wager in New Jersey on an in-state college contest? Former state Senator Ray Lesniak, the godfather of the push for legal sports betting in New Jersey, has said that when the referendum was first proposed in 2010, there was pushback from some of his fellow Rutgers University alumni in the Legislature.

Lesniak said that the referendum was designed as part of a plan to pass a state law legalizing sports betting — which happened in early 2012 — and thus lure the NFL, NCAA, and other sports organizations into suing the state in federal court.

That meant judicial review of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which effectively banned legal sports betting outside of Nevada. It took six years, but New Jersey finally prevailed on May 14, 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA as an unconstitutional “commandeering” of states into enforcing a federal law even when state officials did not support the ban.

Lesniak said that the exclusion of state university sporting events was a worthwhile compromise, considering the overall strategy.

Caputo’s status as the lone former casino executive in the 120-member Legislature typically means he enjoys widespread support for measures related to the industry.

Madness in New Jersey

The introduction of the bill is not related to the men’s college basketball “March Madness” tournament that begins next week, Caputo said.

Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth each are just one step away from national tournament bids, while Princeton heads to the Ivy League semifinals this weekend and Rutgers has merely a very longshot chance to advance in the Big Ten. Seton Hall is seen by some prognosticators as already having earned a place in the NCAA event, with the Pirates seeking to ensure that slot with a strong showing in the Big East conference tournament. NJIT, Rider, and St. Peter’s have been eliminated.

If any New Jersey schools do make the NCAA tournament, residents would have to head to Pennsylvania as their nearest option for making a legal wager. The Keystone State — as well as Nevada, Delaware, Mississippi, and West Virginia — allows betting on any NCAA Division I game. New Mexico and Rhode Island, meanwhile, have mirrored New Jersey’s in-state ban.

Caputo said he would be willing to consider a change to New Jersey’s rules to allow for legal gambling on state university athletic contests.

“All I say is that it would have to go through the proper process,” Caputo said.

Photo by Rick Seeney / Shutterstock.com

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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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