Last month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed two bills passed by the state legislature that would have struck down the state’s prohibition on sports gambling, seemingly ending the state’s two-year fight to bring sports gambling to its struggling Atlantic City casinos. At the time, he said he still favored bringing sports gambling to the state, but wanted to do so in a way that wouldn’t break a federal law that allows wagering in just four states: Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.
But after a wave of casino closings in Atlantic City generated piles of bad press for Christie, and seeking to give his home-state casinos an edge over recently constructed competitors in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Christie apparently has changed his mind.
In essence, Christie is doing exactly what the stage legislature attempted to do earlier this year: Dropping the state’s prohibition on sports gambling, which he claims is a legal move under federal law. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, casinos in Atlantic City will be allowed to introduce sports gambling immediately, so long as no bets are taken on teams located in New Jersey or on any sporting event taking place in New Jersey.
A longtime proponent of sports gambling said it’s about time the state made such a move, which is akin to states that have legalized marijuana, even though it’s still illegal on a federal level:
“I’m happy,” said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union), a major proponent of sports betting. “The governor reversed course, and we’re ready to go,” he said.
Lesniak said he believes that every casino in Atlantic City will take advantage of the opportunity. “I’ve been saying that this will reboot Revel and Showboat,” Lesniak said.
The Revel, Showboat and Trump Plaza casinos all have closed or will close this month in Atlantic City, joining the Atlantic Club, which closed in January. The closings eliminated about 5,900 jobs, or about 20 percent of the casino workforce in New Jersey. The Revel’s closing was especially troublesome for Christie, considering his staunch support for the $2.4 billion casino complex that lasted only two years.
“Rather than serve as a shining example of Christie’s economic stewardship, Revel now stands as a 57-story example of failure in a city that has bedeviled New Jersey governors for decades,” The Post’s Paul Kane wrote last week.
Kane has more on the dilemma faced by Christie as he decides whether to run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016:
His handling of the Revel case creates more problems for his preferred image as a can-do executive who gets results, even if it means working with Democrats.
The casino’s collapse also leaves the tough-talking governor open to criticism from social conservatives in early primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina, who oppose gambling as a vice and who already distrusted Christie’s centrist leanings. Libertarians, meanwhile, question the role of a state government in attempting to prop up such a risky private endeavor.
Christie’s move, however, likely will be challenged in court by the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA, WABC-TV in New York writes. Those organizations already have been successful in stopping the expansion of sports gambling in New Jersey, winning multiple court cases against the state, which then asked the Supreme Court to consider the matter. It declined.
But Christie can now frame the issue in terms of job creation and rescuing a fading seaside resort town, which may give him an upper hand in the public-relations battle. New Jersey voters already have overwhelmingly approved the introduction of sports gambling in a statewide referendum.