ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new poll finds that 53 percent of New Jersey voters favor legalized sports betting at Atlantic City’s casinos and the state’s horse tracks.

The Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll surveyed voters in advance of a November referendum on whether New Jersey residents should be allowed to bet on professional sports.

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Even if the referendum passes, however, a federal ban on sports betting in all but four states would have to be overturned before people could start plunking down cash on the Jets, Giants or Eagles. A lawsuit filed by State Sen. Raymond Lesniak of Union Country aims to overturn the law, claiming it unconstitutionally treats states differently.

New Jersey missed out on its chance to legalize sports betting in 1991 when it failed to meet a deadline for approving it.

Lesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat, is suing the federal government to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The 1992 law restricts sports betting to the four states that met a deadline to sign up for it: Nevada, where Las Vegas sports books determine the odds for sporting events across the country; Delaware; Montana; and Oregon. (Montana and Oregon do not currently offer sports betting.)

The law carved out a special exemption for New Jersey, giving it a chance to decide if it wanted legal sports betting. The state failed to enact a law that would have done so, and the exemption window closed.

Lesniak’s lawsuit argues that the law is unconstitutional because it treats the four states differently than the 46 others.

Lesniak predicted the referendum will sail through this fall.

“I expect it will get even more support when the election takes place in November and we’re already one month into the football season — if there is a football season,” he said.

A consultant hired by an Internet gambling association estimates that sports betting could become a $10 billion-a-year industry in New Jersey, generating nearly $100 million a year in tax revenues for the state.

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The poll found that the issue is not weighing heavily on the minds of many voters just yet. Two-thirds (66 percent) say they have heard little or nothing about it.

William J. Pascrell III, a lobbyist pressing the case for sports betting, called the referendum “an important step to creating new jobs and revenue in a stagnant economy.” He predicted support will grow as more people learn about the referendum.

About as many Democrats favor it (56 percent) as do Republicans (52 percent).

Nearly two-thirds of men (63 percent) favor legalizing sports betting, but fewer than half of women (43 percent) do.

Age plays a big part in determining support for the measure. Almost four out of five (78 percent) of young voters, ages 18 to 34, favor legalization. Middle-aged voters, from 35 to 54, favor the proposition by a 52-to-33 percent margin. Older voters, ages 55 and over, favor it by a slimmer margin of 45-to-35 percent.

Furthermore, younger voters are far less likely to cast ballots than other voters, especially this year, with no national or statewide candidates on the ballot, said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.

The poll of 711 registered voters statewide was conducted by telephone using both landlines and cellphones from March 29 through April 4.

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