NJ lawmakers go all in, place sports betting amendment on ballot

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December 14, 2010

By Al Ortiz

TRENTON, New Jersey: Super Bowl XLV is less than two months away, and legally, New Jersey residents will not be able to place their wagers on arguably the biggest sports event in the country, at least not this year. New Jersey lawmakers are now letting state voters decide whether or not to legalize sports betting in the state, as they voted in favor of sending a proposed constitutional amendment to the November 2011 ballot on December 13, 2010. According to the interpretive statement that will appear on the ballot, if voters enact the amendment, bets could be placed on professional, college, or amateur sports or athletic events, but could not be placed on college sports or events that take place in the state, or if a New Jersey college team is playing in that sports event.[1]

If the proposal is passed, there is one more hurdle to clear, as a 1992 federal law that restricts sports betting in all but four states in the country must be repealed for legal sports betting to happen. The law placed an exemption for New Jersey, which was allowed to decide if it wanted sports betting, but the Garden State failed to pass a law that would have enacted this, which effectively killed the exemption. State Senator Raymond Lesniak filed a lawsuit that argues that the federal ban is unconstitutional because it treats four states differently than the rest.

State Assemblywoman Concetta Wagner supported the idea of the amendment, stating, "Sports betting already exists in New Jersey, but only the criminals are enjoying the profits. Sports fans put billions of dollars on the line every year, regardless of its legality. A legal Atlantic City and race track-based sports book would ensure bettors are not fleeced or put in harm's way."

The measure was initially proposed for the 2010 general election ballot, but did not qualify after the New Jersey Legislature did not schedule a vote before August 2, 2010, the deadline to send the measure to voters. The state legislature must approve a proposed amendment by a supermajority vote of 60% in order to place it on the ballot.

The addition of this amendment now brings Ballotpedia's count of 2011 ballot measures to four, with three statewide measures on the Mississippi ballot.

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