A decade ago, New Jersey voters backed by a 2-to-1 margin a statewide ballot question asking: “Shall the amendment to Article IV, Section VII, paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, agreed to by the Legislature, providing that it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law wagering at casinos or gambling houses in Atlantic City and at current or former running and harness horse racetracks on the results of professional, certain college, or amateur sport or athletic events, be approved?”
A majority of voters in all 21 counties backed the concept, in spite of the fact that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 expressly prohibited any state from permitting such wagers. Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court supported the wisdom of the state’s voters by tossing out PASPA as an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government.
But what seems to be a modest addendum on the ballot next week has run into trouble in relatively scant polling. On Wednesday, Stockton University, which has a campus in Atlantic City, released the results of a poll asking this question:
“Also on the ballot is a constitutional amendment that would allow gambling on college games held in New Jersey or that New Jersey teams participate in. Do you support or oppose this amendment?”
The result was that 51% of the 522 respondents said they opposed the measure, 37% supported it, and 11% said they were not sure.
That is in spite of the fact that an all-time U.S. record $1 billion was wagered legally in the state in September.
What extra wagers are on the ballot?
In the NCAA March Madness men’s basketball tournament this year, 65 of the 67 games were on the menu at more than a dozen mobile sportsbooks in the state, as well as at the nine Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey’s three racetracks.
The two exceptions were for the first-round game won by Rutgers — the lone Garden State squad to make the field — as well as the Scarlet Knights’ second-round loss.
In future years, other teams such as those at Seton Hall, Fairleigh Dickinson, or Princeton also could make the tournament and, if this ballot question is rejected, also would be ineligible for legal wagering in New Jersey.
Rutgers has the only high-level, wager-worthy college football program in the state, and the team has struggled to be competitive since joining the powerhouse Big Ten conference in 2014.
The other athletic contests at issue are occasional games played in New Jersey by out-of-state schools — for instance, if MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands ever became host to a college football bowl game and Rutgers was not one the teams.
The next significant such games to be held in the state likely will be the 2025 March Madness East Regional at the Prudential Center in Newark. In 2011, the same arena was host to that regional, with college powerhouse programs Kentucky, North Carolina, and Ohio State competing along with smaller Wisconsin school Marquette.
But unless voters approve this betting amendment on Tuesday, Nov. 2 (or in 2023), tourists from each of the four schools visiting Newark for that event won’t be able to make a legal bet on the games on their smartphones at the arena or anywhere else in the state.
Previous poll also showed reluctance
In July, a Fairleigh Dickinson poll suggested even more pushback from the electorate, with 49% opposed, only 25% supportive, and 23% “unsure.”
But the phrasing of the poll question may have contributed to some respondent confusion:
“The New Jersey state legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow betting on our college sports teams in New Jersey. What do you think? Do you think betting on college sports in New Jersey should be allowed or should continue to be banned?”
The second question is misleading, as betting on college sports already is allowed — except for the small handful of athletic contests played by New Jersey schools or played in New Jersey.
Backers of the referendum may benefit from the fact that the question is on the ballot in a gubernatorial year and in a year when all 120 seats in the legislature are up for a vote.
Senior citizens tend to have more sway in “off-year” elections, and in the FDU poll 64% opposed the modest betting expansion vs. 11% in support. Among those under 35, sentiment was split — 36% in favor and 35% opposed.
The official question on the ballot next week — one of two referendums this year — reads as follows:
“Do you approve amending the Constitution to permit wagering through casinos and current or former horse racetracks on all college sport or athletic events?
“Currently, wagering is prohibited on college sport or athletic events that take place in New Jersey. Wagering is also prohibited on an event in which a team from a New Jersey college participates.”
Photo: Patrick Breen/The Republic/USA TODAY