ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration issued a directive Monday allowing the state’s casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting, a move likely to be challenged in court by sports leagues.
The governor said he took his cue from previous federal court rulings that found that nothing in New Jersey law prohibits the casinos and horse racing tracks from offering sports betting.
His action, through the state attorney general’s office, is likely to be challenged by the professional and collegiate sports leagues that fought New Jersey’s efforts to overturn a ban on sports betting in all but four states. That effort ended with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case.
Christie, however, said casinos and tracks can start offering betting immediately.
“Based on the arguments of the sports leagues and the United States Department of Justice, the 3rd Circuit has already ruled that New Jersey can carry out sports wagering as described in today’s statewide directive,” the governor’s office wrote in a statement. “The motion simply would clarify and formalize that authority and give clear guidance to casinos and racetracks waiting to open a sports pool in New Jersey.”
The professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey leagues, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, all opposed New Jersey’s effort to legalize sports betting, saying it could give the appearance that the integrity of the games has been compromised.
In addition to the directive, Christie also had the state file a motion in federal court asking a judge to clarify or modify a February 2013 ruling that blocks a licensing program New Jersey had passed for sports betting in the state.
The governor says sports betting is legal under previous federal rulings as long as none of the wagers involve a collegiate game played in New Jersey or a New Jersey college team elsewhere in the country.
“I’m telling people book your rooms now in Atlantic City for the Super Bowl because it’s going to be packed,” state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, one of the Legislature’s strongest supporters of sports betting, told WCBS 880.
Lesniak said he expects the leagues to challenge the move, but predicted: “They don’t have any arguments left to make. This is all over but the shouting.”
The move is a turnaround for Christie, who initially seemed resigned to defeat once the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear New Jersey’s appeal in June, saying, “You know, that’s the way it goes.”
A month ago, Christie vetoed a bill that would have pushed New Jersey to circumvent the federal ban on gambling on professional and college sports. Christie said at the time he disagreed with the court decision but feels the law is “sacrosanct.”
“I’m glad Gov. Christie reversed courses,” Lesniak said. “It was just a little while ago he vetoed my legislation to do exactly that. But he came to his senses. He realizes that our casinos are closing left and right. We have 8,000 and more people out of work in Atlantic City, our racetracks are suffering and that sports betting will be a savior for many of these jobs.”
The move came hours before Christie was to convene a closed-door summit on the future of Atlantic City. The seaside resort has already lost three of the 12 casinos with which it began this year, and a fourth one is due to shut its doors next week; about 8,000 casino workers will have lost their jobs since January.