In a little over two weeks, New Jersey voters will head to the polls, and if history is any guide most of the incumbents on the ballot will be re-elected. Some will have a tougher time than others, and a few state pols will be looking for work come the morning of Nov. 9, but for the most part, the electorate – mad as it is – will send their reps back to Trenton for another couple of years.
The gambling community will be keeping more than a close eye on the only referendum on the ballot – a question that would put the state on record as favoring a legal challenge to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which denies New Jersey (and most other states) the right to allow legal and regulated sports wagering.
New Jersey, which nearly two decades ago opted out of sports wagering when it had the chance to opt in, will be the point on the spear if voters indicate they are up for a court battle with the federal government over PASPSA. The court battle would likely take years, but the longest journey starts will a single step, in this case with voters headed to the polls.
The numbers have been all positive. Several polls taken over the last several months have consistently pegged support from likely voters at or near 53 percent, with 31 percent in opposition. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released on Wednesday showed an even higher number, with 58 backing the challenge and the same 31 percent opposed. Not surprisingly, voters in the southern part of the state – where Atlantic City casinos are located and where sports books would take sports bets – are foursquare in favor, with three in four backing the measure.
Joe Brennan Jr., president of the Washington D.C.-based Interactive Media and Entertainment Association, which is backing the referendum, likes the poll numbers but is concerned about turnout.
“In a non-presidential year,” said Brennan in a recent phone conversation with Covers.com, “there is almost always a low turnout. This is the only referendum on the ballot, so opponents can focus in on this one issue. It’s extremely important that those backing sports betting get to the polls.”
Brennan points out that passage of the measure means that the state would own the issue, and it would be next to impossible for the governor to refuse to devote resources to a court challenge.
Still, with Gov. Chris Christie, anything is possible. Christie refused to back a previous challenge, and the governor also vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state to sanction and regulate online gambling. Christie is a famehound who might be thinking about his next political step, and might not want his fingerprints on legal challenge to the federal government.
But first things first. If you live in New Jersey and you’re registered to vote, make Nov. 8 on your calendar.