TRENTON - (AP) - Twenty years after missing a deadline tolet its residents bet on professional or collegiate sportingevents, New Jersey legislators passed a law Monday night that wouldmake it legal.

But that was the easy part. Once Gov. Chris Christie has signedthe measure, as is expected, the state faces an uphill battle infederal court to try to overturn a law banning sports betting inall but four states.

The state Senate and Assembly adopted a bill that would let NewJerseyans place bets at the 11 Atlantic City casinos and thestate's four horse racing tracks on football, baseball, basketballand other professional or college sports games. Bets could not beplaced on games involving New Jersey collegiate teams.

They also passed laws allowing horse racing fans to place betsat bars and restaurants, and pressured businesses planning to buildoff-track betting parlors to get it done within a year or get outof the business.

"These votes, by both houses of the legislature and the votersof New Jersey, mark the beginning of the end of the inequitablefederal ban on sports betting," said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, anorthern New Jersey Democrat who has been the measure's strongestproponent. "This time next year our residents won't have to fly toLas Vegas or visit their local bookie to bet on the Giants, Jets orEagles to win the Super Bowl. They will be able to go to anAtlantic City casino, Monmouth Racetrack or The Meadowlands."

Lesniak, who sued the federal government in an effort tooverturn the ban, only to see his lawsuit dismissed, predicted thestate will have better luck in court, particularly given that NewJersey residents indicated by a 2-to-1 margin in a non-bindingreferendum in last November's election that they favor legalizedsports betting.

Channeling his inner Rex Ryan, the prediction-prone coach of theNew York Jets, Lesniak said, "I guarantee a victory in the federalcourts for New Jersey to be able to enjoy the same benefits fromsports betting Congress has given to Nevada."

New Jersey missed a 1991 federal deadline to legalize sportsbetting, and was left out of the 1992 law that allowed it inNevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only statetaking legal bets on individual games.

Sports betting proponents want to help the state's strugglingcasinos and horse racing tracks, where bets would be taken, andprovide a new source of tax revenue from a huge pool of moneyflowing untaxed to illegal bookmakers often allied with organizedcrime, or to unlicensed offshore Internet sites.

"Let's face it - sports gaming is already taking place, but theonly people taking advantage of it are the bookies and criminalenterprises," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a southern NewJersey Democrat.

Lesniak had to drop a provision that would have let residentsbet from their home computers or cellphones in order to improve theodds that Christie will sign the bill. The Republican governorendorsed the referendum before the vote was held.

The Atlantic City casinos welcomed passage of the bill, sayingit would help them compete with gambling houses in neighboringstates, and offer one more attraction to customers who now havemore gambling options than ever before.

"If and when the federal ban is overturned, this law wouldpermit casinos to accept wagers on sporting events, adding anotheramenity to enhance our ability to compete and grow as a destinationresort," the Casino Association of New Jersey said in a statementreleased Monday. "Legalized sports betting would provide aneconomic boost for Atlantic City and the entire state of NewJersey, as it would attract more tourists to our city and itsworld-class entertainment, thriving restaurants, brand-name retailshopping and world-famous Boardwalk."

The legislature also approved a measure allowing horse racingfans to place bets from 12 bars or restaurants in northernand central New Jersey.

New Jersey has authorized 15 off-track betting locations, butonly three have been built. Racing industry executives blame theuncertainty surrounding their sport in New Jersey, includingongoing efforts to find a private operator for Monmouth Park, andthe end of annual casino subsidies to the tracks.

The legislature also passed a law Monday requiring holders ofpermits to build off-track betting parlors who have not yet builtthem to do so within a year, or forfeit a $1 million bond and losethe right to build such a facility.

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