NJ Sports Betting Clears Legislative Hurdles As Committees Advance Bills

TRENTON — The New Jersey Assembly’s Tourism, Gaming, and the Arts committee unanimously passed a new bill to open and regulate sports betting Monday morning in Trenton.

It was the start of a marathon series of committee meetings for the NJ Legislature.

The Assembly’s Appropriations Committee passed an amended version of the same bill shortly thereafter. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee followed suit, passing a similar version of the bill (S2602) in the afternoon. 

The bills will now head to a full vote on Thursday, as the Garden State hopes to open sportsbooks in Atlantic City and other locations by this weekend.

What changed in the NJ sports betting bill?

The state’s victory in Murphy v. NCAA last month brought the legislation to life.

Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo (D-Essex), a former casino employee, celebrated the Supreme Court victory with his opening statement. He called NJ sports betting a “boon” for the state and even suggested “this will generate more revenue than anticipated” from previous estimations.

The original bill, A3911, was introduced before the US Supreme Court decision but was pulled days before the hearing. After almost two hours of testimony that saw friendly and feisty exchanges, the new bill, A4111, headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for afternoon discussion.

The afternoon session featured a long delay as committee chair Assemblyman Steve Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) and others spent nearly two hours in recess considering amendments.

The meeting’s amendment saw the 1.25 percent tax on winnings at state racetracks diverted from the host counties and municipalities and funneled to the Division of Local Government Services, a part of the NJ Department of Community Affairs.

Once collected, the individual municipalities and counties would have to apply for the funds to use for economic development purposes. The amendment of the bill could cause complications unless the Senate adds a similar amendment to its bill. 

The bill includes an 8.5 percent tax on bets made in person and a 13.5 percent tax on bets made online. The bill will not seek any integrity fees, which hasn’t found many friends in state houses.

No love for integrity fees or sports leagues

Testimony in each committee hearing ranged from celebratory with Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazin — long a supporter of sports betting and a direct beneficiary of the opened market — to confrontational with representatives of the NBA, MLB, and PGA Tour.

The Atlantic City veteran who ran the first committee hearing in the morning turned from a glad-handing host with his allies to a no-nonsense pit boss admonishing the state’s former legal rivals.

When the integrity fee discussions happened, the leagues tried to discuss the additional costs of regulating the games, the costs of maintaining legitimate and reliable data and working with enforcement agencies.

Caputo wouldn’t hear it.

After directly asking why the leagues thought they needed the fees, and getting no suitable answers, he called the fee “hypocrisy to the fullest extent” and suggested the leagues approach the FBI if they were concerned with game integrity.

Before the Assembly Appropriations committee recess, originally scheduled for 10 minutes, Burzichelli took only one testimony from Dan Spillane, the NBA’s SVP and Assistant General Counsel, League Governance & Policy.

Spillane attempted to discuss integrity issues, but Burzichelli responded quickly, saying his comments weren’t relevant to the proposed amendment.

DraftKings, FanDuel seek clarity

From the gaming side, DraftKings and FanDuel testified in support of the bill but wanted some expansion on language regarding the location of the proposed betting lounges.

Their suggestion to modify the bill and allow more space for the lounges wasn’t added.

Caputo and the state appear focused on opening the sportsbooks with all expediency and seem sore that Delaware, which is taking its first bets on Tuesday, will beat them to the punch.

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Other discussions at the NJ sports betting bill hearings

Atlantic City City Council President Marty Small Sr. spoke in support of the bill. He noted that “no one will offer the amount of amenities the Atlantic City casinos have.”

NJ legislators expressed a desire to bring more jobs back to the seaside resort now under state control. Other civic groups hoped to see more revenue stay within the city, opening more services for residents and renewing the promise to benefit Atlantic City.

But perhaps the most dramatic speaker was former MLB veteran, Al Leiter. At the first Assembly committee hearing, he voiced adamant concern for the “profound risk” that an expanded sports betting market would invite.

Having books open so close to major and minor league parks makes players “so much more vulnerable” to schemers. He also cited how little those in lower levels make and the unlikelihood they’ll make the majors.

He cited these concerns as part of why Bud Selig, the former MLB commissioner when Leiter served as a player rep, never wanted a team in Las Vegas.

About the Author

Marco Cerino

Marco Cerino is a 2007 graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and a 2017 graduate from the Masters program at Temple University. A freelance writer based in South Jersey, he's worked in sports at the minor and major league levels. He now covers the NJ online gambling industry.