New Jersey Sports Betting Pioneer Lesniak Now A Hall of Famer

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Former New Jersey state Senator Ray Lesniak said his first thought upon being named to the latest class of the Sports Betting Hall of Fame was, “Better late than never!”

While Lesniak made that comment on Friday alongside a chuckle, he acknowledges that there was a time last year, when Chris Christie was inducted into the Hall and Lesniak wasn’t, when there was no such chuckle.

“It bothered me because Governor Christie resisted my efforts on three occasions while I tried to make sports betting happen,” said Lesniak, one of five honorees being inducted next spring during the Betting on Sports America conference held at the Meadowlands.

Lesniak noted that Christie’s “transition team” a decade ago came out against sports betting; Christie was unwilling to match departing Gov. Jon Corzine’s support for an early lawsuit, leading Lesniak to be denied due to lack of standing in the courts; and Christie vetoed a 2014 bill that he said was written up too hastily.

Lesniak said that while another revised bill soon was signed by Christie, the veto was “thrown up in my face” during argument at the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

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“I feel like it wasn’t until the handwriting was on the wall that he did the right thing,” Lesniak said. “But I do give [Christie] a lot of credit for hiring Ted Olson, which made a world of difference.”

Lesniak hands out credit

Christie has credited his hiring of Olson as the state’s lead attorney in the saga as a tipping point in the state’s successful battle against the NFL and four other sports organizations to get the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 to vacate the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

Lesniak pointed to Monmouth Park operator Dennis Drazin — a 2018 inductee along with Christie and Las Vegas bookmaker Art Manteris — and Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association founder Joe Brennan Jr. as key early partners.

Brennan Jr. aligned with Lesniak in trying to get New Jersey to legalize online gambling — which later morphed into the attempt to add sports betting to New Jersey state racetracks as well as Atlantic City casinos.

Drazin, Lesniak noted, “was the only one in the state casino or racetrack industries” to offer his support for the sports betting legalization fight from the start.

As for honors, Lesniak said that it would be difficult to top the human rights award he was granted at a ceremony in Normandy, France for his work on opposing the death penalty.

The other new Hall of Famers

Betting on Sports America, which bills itself as “the largest dedicated sports betting conference & exhibition in the world,” last week announced a list of inductees that Vice President Sue Schneider said “shows the depth and breadth of the overall industry within the U.S.”:

  • Jay Rood, who rose from being a ticket writer in Las Vegas more than 25 years ago to overseeing all of MGM’s U.S. casino sportsbook properties. Rood earlier this year became Chief Risk Officer for iGaming and sportsbook platform supplier Bet.Works.
  • Roxy Roxborough, the legendary Las Vegas oddsmaker who in 1999 was named by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as the second-most influential sports figure of the 20th century.
  • Vic Salerno, the president of US Bookmaking and US Fantasy Sports. Salerno, with four decades in the racebook, sportsbook, and now daily fantasy sports industries, pioneered the development and use of self-service betting kiosks and other technological innovations.
  • Sara Slane, the former American Gaming Association senior vice president who became a leading voice in the national debate over the expansion of legal sports betting in the U.S. In June, Slane launched her own strategic advisory firm called Slane Advisory.

 

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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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