The New Jersey Assembly on Thursday voted, 70-4, to approve a resolution on permitting wagering on Rutgers football, Seton Hall basketball, and other New Jersey college sports.
The state Senate already had approved the same resolution on June 3, by a 36-1 vote, so the next step — after state officials finalize technical language — is for voters statewide to indicate whether they agree with lawmakers that such gambling should be added to the sports betting menu.
New Jersey bettors have been able to bet on all major out-of-state college contests since June 2018, a month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992. That decision validated New Jersey’s six-year legal fight to end Nevada’s near-monopoly on such gambling.
A decade ago, New Jersey voters backed a referendum to permit sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and at state racetracks — in direct defiance of PASPA. The NFL and four other sports organizations sued the state in 2012 and won a series of court rulings before the nation’s top court agreed to review the matter in 2017.
With nearly two-thirds of voters supporting the previous referendum even as it seemed to violate federal law, the expectation is that this referendum could pass even more easily. Naysayers who predicted an increase in “fixing games” due to the legalization of sports betting instead have seen no such activity.
Curiously, the Assembly did not vote on this resolution on Monday even though it approved the other 15 resolutions on the docket.
What the resolution says
The resolution, which was first introduced last October, runs just six pages.
“Wagering shall not be permitted on a college sport or athletic event that takes place in New Jersey or on a sport or athletic event in which any New Jersey college team participates regardless of where the event takes place,” the law already reads, with the amendment adding, “except that it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law wagering at casinos or gambling houses in Atlantic City on the results of any college sport or athletic event that is a tournament, playoff, championship, or other postseason competition that takes place in New Jersey, including any such event in which a New Jersey college team participates, and that is sanctioned by a nonprofit collegiate athletic association led by its members.”
Another new clause clarifies that the state’s three racetracks — and their mobile sports betting partners — will have the same new options.
The “interpretive statement” proposed for the ballot that many voters will rely on is scheduled to read:
“Currently, the State Constitution prohibits wagering on college sport or athletic events taking place in New Jersey. It also prohibits wagering on an event in which a New Jersey college team participates. This amendment would allow the Legislature to pass laws permitting wagering on any college sport or athletic event.
“It would permit wagering even if a New Jersey college team participates in the competition. Such wagering would be permitted only through casinos and current or former horse racetracks.“
March Madness 2022 betting in play
State Sen. Paul Sarlo, a Bergen County Democrat, initially only sought to pave the way for out-of-state visitors who come to the Prudential Center in Newark for men’s college basketball March Madness in 2025.
But Sarlo found that previous opposition from both the NCAA and college athletic programs in the state had all but disappeared in the course of the past three years.
The ban on in-state games, former state Sen. Ray Lesniak has said, came about because a decade ago he was anxious to get a sports betting law passed for the specific purpose of luring the sports organizations to sue, so he carved out the in-state college betting ban to soothe reluctant lawmakers. That was a gambit that eventually paid off.
Assuming the ballot question is approved by voters, lawmakers would then pass enabling legislation clarifying the parameters for in-state college betting.
The Rutgers football team will play eight of its 12 regular-season games before the vote takes place, but the Scarlet Knights have high hopes of appearing in a postseason bowl game near the end of the year.
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