TRENTON - (AP) - New Jersey residents would be able to beton sports games using their home computers or smartphones under aproposal making its way through the state Legislature.
Although the sports betting measure was designed to drive newcustomers to the casinos and racetracks - with hopes they wouldthen gamble on table games and slots or bet on horses - thelegislation would let any New Jersey resident who is at least 21years old use computers or electronic hand-held devices to placebets on sports games as well, as long as the person making the betis in the state at the time.
A state Senate committee on Thursday approved a bill that wouldlegalize sports betting in New Jersey - provided a federal ban onit in all but four states can somehow be overcome. On Nov. 8, abouttwo-thirds of New Jersey voters voted in favor of legal sportsbetting in a non-binding referendum.
"It's a key portion of the revenue," said Sen. RaymondLesniak, an Elizabeth Democrat sponsoring the bill. "All thestudies we've seen determined that the Internet part of sportsbetting is the most lucrative revenue raiser."
The committee also deleted a portion of the bill Thursday thatwould have set up a sports betting parlor at the site of the formerGarden State Park racetrack site in Cherry Hill. The bill had madea special exception for Cherry Hill because lawmakers consideredthe affluent suburban community near Philadelphia as a lucrativemarket and wanted New Jersey to have a competitive advantage overPennsylvania in offering sports betting there.
But the site has no building that can be used for a sportsbetting parlor, and there are no immediate plans for one. Lesniaktold The Associated Press that lawmakers agreed to delete it fromthe bill in order to speed it on its way to Gov. Chris Christie,who said before the referendum that he would vote in favor of it.
Lesniak said the idea is to quickly get a bill to the governor,hope he signs it, and then have the state file a lawsuit tooverturn the federal ban on the grounds it is unconstitutional intreating states differently.
"There's no need for us to get into the nitty-gritty ofselecting a site there right now," Lesniak said. "We need to getthis to the governor to sign. There's no site right now in CherryHill, so we don't need to deal with that right now."
If Pennsylvania ever moves to offer sports betting, a bill wouldbe introduced at that point to add Cherry Hill as an approvedsports betting site, Lesniak said.
The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote on Dec. 15. AnAssembly version of the bill remains in committee there, with novote scheduled.
The bill would tax sports betting revenue at the same 8 percentrate it taxes other casino winnings. It also would be subject tothe same additional 1.25 percent state-mandated redevelopmentcontributions that casinos must make on their regular gamblingwinnings.
William Pascrell III, a lobbyist on behalf of the sports bettingbill, said there could be $10 billion in sports bets made in NewJersey in the first year the new law is in effect.
An unspecified portion of the revenue generated by the sportsbets would go to fund programs for compulsive gamblers. DonaldWeinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gamblingof New Jersey, said legalizing sports betting will increase thenumber of problem gamblers in the state, which he currently puts at350,000. Of those, 9 percent say they have a problem with sportsbetting, even though it is now illegal.
Gary Schneider of Plainfield, a compulsive gambler, said hislife was wrecked by betting on sports events. Starting at age 13and continuing until age 40, he developed a gambling problem sosevere he would be betting $100,000 a week on sporting events - hisentire annual salary from a New York publishing house.
"I became what's known as a board gambler: I bet the entireboard," he said. "If there were 60 games on a Saturday withcollege football, I bet 60 games. This bill is going to create moreGary Schneiders."