Christie's Position on Sports Betting Uncertain?

Governor thinks twice and chills relationship with pro-sports betting senator

Sports betting legalization in the US state of New Jersey may be stalled once again by Governor Chris Christie, who has first expressed his support to the bill proposed by online gambling supporter Senator Ray Lesniak, but now seems hesitant to pass the bill, which seeks to challenge the federal Professional Amateur Sports Protection Act.

This of course created a cooler relationship between the two politicians, which can be judged by the rumors that Christie may be backing off for political reasons in an election year, and a statement that Lesniak gave regarding this newly emerged issue after the latest meeting with the government's staff:

"Christie is putting the future of Atlantic City in jeopardy because of his overriding concern for support from [Las Vegas land gambling mogul] Adelson, a right-wing money machine of Newt Gingrich and right-wing causes; Caesars, a huge contributor based in Nevada; and Woody Johnson, Jets owner and NFL opponent of sports gaming."

On the other side, Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, denied these claims, stating: "Democrats criticize us for everything, so what else is new? I don't feel the need to weigh in at this moment."

It was also added by the governor's fellow Republican, assemblyman Chris A. Brown, that he is not aware of any change in the governor's position.

"It is my understanding that Gov. Christie supports intrastate Internet gaming," he said. "Obviously, this is a great opportunity for New Jersey to create new jobs and new economic activity."

Still, this does not seem to appease Lesniak who then added that Christie has been mentioned as a possible presidential running mate for the Republicans' Mitt Romney, and that this could be the reason for his reluctance to move on the sports betting bill.

From the meeting held on April 27 with State Sen. Whelan and members of Christie's policy and legal staffs - Lou Goetting, Nick DiRocco and Bob Garinger, Lesniak said he concluded that the governor had also cooled on the concept of internet gambling, even if operated from servers in Atlantic City and operated by existing land operators.

"We were told ... that the Atlantic City casinos have not made the case that Internet gaming is good for them," Lesniak said of the meeting and added: "Sen. Whelan and I were stunned. We were led to believe that there were only technical issues to clear up."

Whelan confirmed Lesniak's impressions, stating: "Again, from the front office, I got mixed signals."

In conclusion, the infuriated Lesniak specified: "Atlantic City casino revenues have declined 29 of the 30 months since Gov. Christie's been in office. Internet gaming will add $200 million a year to their revenues, and likely will make the difference between some closing or staying open and saving hundreds of jobs.

'Sports wagering is expected to generate another $225 million in new revenue for the casinos and tracks, but openly supporting sports betting now could be just as problematic for the Republican governor.

'After the positive November ballot, Christie could have filed a declaratory judgment action, or started the regulatory and licensing process to force the Justice Department or the professional sports leagues to file suit to stop it,' Lesniak claimed. 'He's done neither. And legal experts say the delays on both fronts could be detrimental to Atlantic City.'

And according to lawyer Michael Sklar, who represents several Atlantic City casinos, there venues are eager to offer the pastime. "From the perspective of first-to-market, it's a big deal to get in there and get established because it's inevitable that a lot of other states will legalize it as well," he added.

What the government will decide in the end, it remains to be seen, but this hesitancy does not seem very promising.

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