The curious quirk in the New Jersey sports betting law — one subsequently copied by other states, including New York and Connecticut — that allows betting on college athletic events but not those involving in-state universities cost the state lots of betting handle and maybe some revenue as St. Peter’s University became the first No. 15 seed in March Madness history to win three games. Those who wanted to bet the games still could, of course —it’s only a brief train ride from campus in Jersey City to Manhattan, where you could place a legal, mobile bet on St. Peter’s games.
The Peacocks’ unprecedented run, which ended on Sunday with a 20-point loss to North Carolina in an Elite Eight contest, brought further awareness to New Jersey’s peculiar law. But it won’t provide much of a boost — at least not immediately — for those who wish to end the ban.
That’s because New Jersey state law does not allow the same ballot question to be put up to a vote in consecutive years, and voters last November resoundingly defeated such a referendum.
By the time lawmakers are considering whether to make another run at ending the prohibition a year from now, Peacock Pride may not have much residual sentiment.
Hoping for momentum
A key current lawmaker and the architect of the original sports betting law language a decade ago weighed in with NJ Online Gambling on the matter on Wednesday. Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, who has sponsored many of the expansion of legalized gambling bills in his chamber, said there was “a lot of excitement” about St. Peter’s making NCAA Tournament history.
“I think maybe we’ll talk to members of committees” about bringing another constitutional amendment to voters in November 2023, Caputo said.
“The whole effort inspired us,” he added of the Peacocks’ upsets of No. 2-seeded Kentucky, No. 7 Murray State, and No. 3 Purdue. “This will keep the lights on [St. Peter’s] for a long time.”
But for Caputo, what he called “the overmarketing of gaming” in advertising, along with his efforts to expand legal wagering on eSports, remain top priorities.
Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak shepherded through a ballot question in 2011 that launched a six-year legal battle with the NFL and other sports organizations. That effort culminated in a landmark ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 that nullified the 26-year-old federal law preventing any other state than Nevada from offering Las Vegas-style sports betting.
“I hope and expect we’ll give it another try next year,” said Lesniak of an effort to persuade voters to allow wagering on such events as St. Peter’s basketball or Rutgers football. “I think we will focus the issue better.”
As for the timing of the St. Peter’s achievement, Lesniak said, “In sports, you don’t get to choose your year to make a run.”
A low-key event
There was no marketing campaign either for or against the November 2021 ballot question on the issue — in contrast to the millions spent to defeat a 2016 statewide vote on whether to allow for two casinos to be built in North Jersey.
A 2023 ballot question would mark the last opportunity to end the ban before the March 2025 NCAA men’s basketball East Regional semifinals and finals that will be held at the Prudential Center.
Unlike most states that ban in-state betting on local universities, the New Jersey law also does not allow wagers on any college games played inside state lines, regardless of whether the teams are from New Jersey.
The last March Madness regional held at the Prudential Center in Newark was in 2011, when St. Peter’s 2022 foes Kentucky and North Carolina squared off in a regional final won by Kentucky. Ohio State and Marquette also participated in that event.
The 2025 contests could represent a first opportunity for the state to take wagers from thousands of out-of-staters who travel to Newark for the games. That, said Lesniak, could provide an incentive for interested lawmakers and sportsbooks to make an effort to push for passage of a referendum on the issue.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing Rutgers make a run for a spot in the Final Four next year,” said Lesniak, an alumnus of the school, on what would undoubtedly be a boost for a 2023 vote on whether to end the in-state college betting ban.
Photo: Mitchell Leff/USA TODAY