The future of American sports betting is again in the hands of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The New Jersey Assembly passed new sports betting legislation by a 73-4 vote Thursday and sent the bill to the governor. Assembly Bill 3711, which also breezed through the Senate this week, partially repeals the state's prohibitions on sports betting, paving the way for casinos and racetracks to begin taking wagers upon the governor's approval.
Christie has 45 days to act. If he signs the bill immediately, New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak says he'll be ready to place an NFL bet at Monmouth Park as soon as next weekend.
"We hope that Gov. Christie will sign the bill in time for us to start taking bets Oct. 26," Dennis Drazin, an attorney representing the racetrack, told ESPN.com.
There are still major obstacles for the state, most notably an unrelenting legal challenge from the NCAA as well as the NFL and other professional sports leagues.
A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 21 in the U.S. District Court in Trenton to address Christie's motion for clarification from Judge Michael Shipp's injunction against the state. In its ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that it did not find the federal sports betting prohibition prevented New Jersey from repealing its ban on sports betting. The Department of Justice, which intervened on the leagues' side, also wrote in legal briefs during the case that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) does not force New Jersey to "maintain or enforce its sports wagering prohibitions."
That's what New Jersey is attempting to do with its new legislation. The main sticking point for legal experts who have followed the case is the restriction of sports betting to casinos and racetracks, which are licensed by the state. Lesniak believes, under general police powers afforded to the state, New Jersey can limit where an activity can take place.
"We regulate where gentlemen's clubs, for instance, can be," Lesniak said. "It's in our police powers and is not the same type of licensing that the courts said PASPA prohibits."
In August, Christie took all 45 days before vetoing a similar bill introduced by Lesniak, only to reverse course a month later and issue a directive through Attorney General John Hoffman that instructed law enforcement to cease enforcing sports betting laws at racetracks and casinos.
Lesniak is hopeful Christie will support the new legislation but had not received a commitment from the governor as of Wednesday. The governor's office did request two amendments to the bill, though, something Lesniak believes is a sign that Christie will support it.
A spokesman for Christie's office told ESPN on Thursday after the vote that they are reviewing the legislation and have no further comment at this time.
"I believe and the attorneys for Monmouth Park believe the best move now is to withdraw the motion for clarification and to begin taking bets," Lesniak said.
Ryan Rodenberg, an assistant professor of sports law at Florida State University, agrees with Lesniak.
"The bill passed today appears to be more consistent with Third Circuit's ruling," Rodenberg said. "Given this passage of the bill, it will be revealing, if Gov. Christie is inclined to sign it and whether he does it before or after the Nov. 21 hearing date. It will reveal whether Gov. Christie intends to still pursue sports betting in the state of New Jersey through two different tracks."
If Christie were to withdraw the motion for clarification and Monmouth Park began taking bets, Lesniak believes the leagues would then sue the racetrack but would eventually settle for a percentage of the action.
"I believe the leagues' end game is property rights," Lesniak said. "They are going to say that, 'These are our games and by taking bets on them you are violating our property rights.' That would be the basis for them to get to the table and cut a deal."
In September, New Jersey State Sen. Jim Whelan and Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo wrote to NBA commissioner Adam Silver proposing a 0.25 percent fee on every wager go to the sports leagues.
One of the requested amendments by the governor's office was to include language in the bill prohibiting wagering on games involving state colleges and universities, such as Rutgers. This would prevent sports book operators from offering futures odds on events like the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Nevada, the only state allowed to offer single-game sports betting, ran into this issue before amending its regulations in 2001 to allow wagering on UNLV and University of Nevada games.
The NCAA has a policy of not holding championship events in states that offer sports betting.
"The NCAA has asked the United States District Court to stop the state of New Jersey from allowing sports wagering to occur in casinos and racetracks across the state in violation of the injunction issued last year," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn told ESPN. "The NCAA continues to believe that the spread of legalized sports wagering is a threat to student-athlete well-being and the integrity of athletic competition."
While it awaits Christie's decision, the state must file response briefs Friday in its request for clarification from Shipp.