Governor signs NJ sports betting bill

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Friday that partially repeals the state's sports betting prohibitions and clears the way for casinos and racetracks to begin taking bets as soon as next weekend. Monmouth Park, one of the state's oldest thoroughbred tracks, has said it will offer sports betting starting Sunday, Oct. 26.

Christie signed the bill just one day after the state assembly passed the legislation with overwhelming support.

"As I've said all along, I am a strong proponent of legalized sports wagering in New Jersey," Christie said in a statement. "But given earlier decisions by federal courts, it was critical that we follow a correct and appropriate path to curtail new court challenges and expensive litigation. I believe we have found that path in this bipartisan legislative effort."

The NFL and other sports leagues that have been fighting New Jersey's efforts to legalize sports betting could file quickly for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order to prevent Monmouth Park from opening its sports book. In order to be granted the injunction or restraining order, one or more of the leagues will need to show proof of immediate harm that they believe would come from sports betting at Monmouth Park.

A similar legal situation occurred in 1976, when the NFL unsuccessfully attempted to get a restraining order to prevent Delaware from offering a lottery based on league games. U.S. District Judge Walter K. Stapleton denied the league's request, stating that he found "no threat of immediate irreparable injury to the NFL."

The NFL and NBA have declined comment.

Also on Friday, New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman withdrew the state's request for clarification regarding a February 2013 ruling from a U.S. District Court that had gone against the state in the case. While appealing that ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its opinion that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 -- the federal ban on state-sponsored sports betting -- did not prevent New Jersey from repealing its own sports betting prohibitions. New Jersey framed its new legislation on that opinion and elected not to wait for the court to clarify.

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who has led the fight in hopes of re-energizing the state's struggling gaming and horse racing industries, plans to place the first legal bet at Monmouth Park next Sunday.

"It's been a long fight to get this done, and I plan to celebrate and take my victory lap at Monmouth Park next Sunday," Lesniak said.

Monmouth Park built a sports bar and restaurant that was designed to be transformed into a sports book once sports betting was legalized. It's expected to offer a limited menu of betting options to begin.

"This will help clear away the legal obstacles and provide a clear path to finally bringing sports betting to New Jersey," Lesniak added in a statement. "And it couldn't happen at a more important time. It will be a lifeline to Atlantic City casinos and for the horse racing industry, creating jobs and economic opportunities that will serve the city and the state for years to come. Sports betting is now much closer to a reality in New Jersey."

No other New Jersey racetrack or casino has said publicly that it will move forward with sports betting as of Friday.