Early returns in New Jersey suggest voters have overwhelmingly approved a referendum that sought to give state residents the legal right to bet on sporting events. Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot asked voters to weigh in on whether state legislators should push the federal government to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which would allow sports betting to take place at New Jersey’s racetracks and at casinos in Atlantic City. Various reports have the ‘aye’ vote outpacing the ‘nays’ by as much as 2:1, but with no state-wide electoral seats up for grabs, voter turnout was apparently abysmal, possibly falling below that of the all-time low of 32% in 2007.
State Sen. Ray Lesniak, the state’s biggest proponent of bringing sports betting (and online poker) to New Jersey gamblers, says the vote “sent Congress a message that its law which has allowed sports betting in Las Vegas, but not in Atlantic City, is unfair.” Lesniak plans to introduce the relevant legislation on Thursday, and he’s confident that he can fast-track the bill through both legislative houses before the current session ends Jan. 10, 2012. And with Gov. Chris Christie already on record as supporting the move, Lesniak need not fear the veto that killed his online poker bill in February.
Of course, state legislation is meaningless until federal courts agree to overturn PASPA, and sports leagues – the NFL, in particular – can be expected to fund the best constitutional lawyers that pigskin money can buy. Nevertheless, Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association (IMEGA) president Joe Brennan Jr. told the Chicago Tribune that Tuesday’s vote leaves no doubt that the federal sports betting ban “conflicts with the expressed will of New Jersey’s voters,” which the courts “must resolve … in people’s favor, and do so quickly.” Others, like gaming lawyer I. Nelson Rose, think the process will take far longer. Regardless, Tuesday’s vote is a necessary step in the right direction.