After a few technical difficulties and delays, New Jersey lawmakers put the finishing touches on NJ sports betting regulations. The Assembly and Senate both passed the same bill unanimously on Thursday.

All that’s left is for Gov. Phil Murphy to sign it into law. Once he signs it, NJ sports betting will be up and running.

Two sessions in one day end with the same result

After briskly passing a series of bills, the Assembly recessed to consider amendments for the sports betting legislation. The chamber buzzed with discussion of the proposals.

After over an hour delay, the chamber reconvened.The NJ Assembly passed the amended bill A4111 by 73-0 to applause on Thursday afternoon, allowing casinos and racetracks to open sportsbooks.

“It was the people of New Jersey who by public referendum [in 2011] voted to change the Constitution, saying that they wanted to be able to bet on sports legally,” said Assemblymember John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), one of the bill’s sponsors, after the vote. “The Legislature has taken that direction and today, with the support of the United States Supreme Court, we have passed the regulatory structure that will allow sports gaming in New Jersey to be conducted.”

The Senate bill was substituted entirely by the Assembly version, which had been amended before passage. Both chambers needed to approve the same language for the bill to pass in full.

Once again, the vote was unanimous.

What happened in the NJ Legislature

Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling moved to have the bill introduced as an emergency, which passed 71-0. He spoke of the bill glowingly, including how it would return jobs to the struggling casinos and racetracks.

Assemblyman Anthony Bucco rose to suggest the bill be sent back to committee to amend the legislation and allow more money for tax rebates. That motion was tabled by a 45-21 vote.

Shortly after that, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo recounted the yearslong battle that saw the bill reach this stage.

“I can’t stress enough how big of a boost this will bring to our state’s economy,” said Caputo (D-Essex). “Sports gambling has been going on for so long, and now the state can finally regulate this activity and reap some of the revenue so we can fund programs which will benefit all of our residents, including those who need it most. This will bring jobs back to New Jersey and contribute to the revitalization of Atlantic City. This is a big win.”

He also took part of his speech to recognize the efforts of former state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who received applause from the chamber. Lesniak told reporters he seeks to make the first bet at Monmouth Park, which hopes to open before Murphy signs the bill into law, on the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl, currently listed at 40-1 odds.

On Monday, during the Tourism, Gaming and the Arts committee hearing, Caputo asked the league officials to remunerate New Jersey for the $9 million they spent fighting for legal sports betting. The legal battle ended May 14 in the Supreme Court decision that overturned PASPA. Caputo referenced that comment again during Thursday’s session.

In the end, both chambers moved the bill forward.

What about a Golden Nugget sportsbook?

One of the amendments to the NJ sports betting bill cleared the path for casinos linked to sports leagues, such as Golden Nugget, to open sportsbooks. However, the sportsbook is not allowed to offer wagers on the leagues in which those teams participate.

What this means is that a Golden Nugget sportsbook can exist, but it won’t be able to take bets on any NBA games.

This provision is stricter than those in Las Vegas, where Tilman Fertitta’s Golden Nugget can take action on the NBA but not Houston Rockets’ games. (Fertitta owns the Houston franchise.)

The amendment was good news for Golden Nugget AC’s general manager, Tom Pohlman:

“We are grateful to the legislature for listening to our concerns and including the Golden Nugget in the sports betting legislation. We look forward to taking our first bets on professional and college football, baseball, college basketball, soccer, hockey, MMA, etc. While we recognize that today the legislation will prohibit us from accepting wagers solely on the NBA, we hope to persuade the lawmakers over time that the total NBA ban is unnecessary and should be limited simply to the Houston Rockets team owned by Mr. Fertitta.”

Murphy’s signature on the bill has not been guaranteed. There is speculation that Murphy could withhold his signature while budget negotiations continue.

Burzichelli noted without a regulatory restriction the books could open today with the governor’s signature. However, the casinos will need licenses to operate and take wagers.

He also speculated a book could open on the grounds of the former Garden State racetrack in Cherry Hill. The sprawling shopping plaza could accommodate at least one book and offer attractive options to those traveling from Philadelphia.

Marco Cerino

About

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.