If a recent poll is any indication, New Jersey voters may not be inclined to expand sports betting to include local college teams, the only question on the November ballot.
The Assembly last month approved a resolution, SCR-133, asking voters if they want to allow gamblers to bet on college sports involving New Jersey teams, as well as any collegiate games played within the state. These are currently prohibited under the state’s three-year old sports betting law and would need voter approval. Lawmakers want, in particular, to be able to collect revenue from the NCAA Eastern Regional basketball finals expected to be held in New Jersey in 2025. The state taxes sports-wagering revenue at 8.5% for in-person betting and 13% for Internet wagers.
But an FDU Poll last week said voters oppose the expansion by a two-to-one margin, with only 25% saying they support the change. Meanwhile, 49% stated they oppose betting on college sports, another 23% were unsure. With the election still four months away, people have plenty of time to change their minds.
“Many voters still aren’t sure where they stand on the matter,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the executive director of the poll. “But supporters are going to need to change a lot of minds if they want to get this passed.”
In 2011 voters by a two-to-one margin amended the state constitution to allow betting on professional and college sports, except those being played in the state and those involving New Jersey teams. Because of a federal prohibition, the state couldn’t actually allow betting to take place until 2018, after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the federal law preventing wagers. Sports betting in New Jersey is allowed in casinos, at racetracks and online.
The Legislature passed the resolution to put the question on the November ballot with near unanimous support. Only one senator and four Assembly members voted against it. The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee held a public hearing on the measure last November that lasted three minutes with no one speaking, though it was on the same day the committee endorsed the bill. During that meeting, seven people — all associated with gambling in some way — indicated their support for the bill.
“Allowing New Jerseyans to bet on games that are played here in New Jersey, that would be high interest, that people would be attending, all of that is more bets, all that is more revenue, all of that is more revenue into the state, all of that is more revenue into our racetracks and our casinos, so good news all around,” said Christina Renna, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.
The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services could not estimate the amount of additional money the state would receive if the expansion is approved. In May, the most recent month for which data is available, the state collected about $6.8 million in taxes on sports betting. Revenue did suffer last year, when casinos shut for a time and many sporting events were cancelled due to COVID-19.
Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), who sponsored the measure in the Senate, said the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships regional tournament slated for the Prudential Center in Newark in 2025 gave a particular impetus for expanding sports betting to collegiate events involving New Jersey schools or taking place in the state.
“Sports betting in New Jersey became wildly popular since it was first permitted back in 2018 and I think we’ve proven that we could do it reliably, safely, with great integrity,” Sarlo said. “Some of the top teams in 2025, whoever they may be at that time, will be here. I’m sure there will be a lot of activity throughout the country, and betting. We just felt it was not fitting for us to sit back and not be able to collect that revenue.”
Initially, college sports had been excluded from the sports-betting law because of concerns about match-fixing, said Cassino. Because student-athletes aren’t paid, it was thought that they might be more susceptible to bribes. That is changing, though, in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upended an NCAA prohibition on paying students and the organization’s new interim rule that allows student athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness.
In a statement issued following Assembly vote last month, the sponsors said it’s time for New Jersey to join other states and allow betting on all college games.
“Out of the 26 states that have approved legal sports wagering, New Jersey is the only one to not allow wagering on collegiate sporting events,” said Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, both Monmouth County Democrats.
The FDU Poll found greater support for the question among Republicans, men and voters under age 35. Just 11% of senior citizens and 22% of voters with a college degree were in favor. In a year with federal candidates on the ballot, it is likely older and more educated voters will turn out in the greatest numbers, which could impact the passage of the measure, Cassino said.
“Among the voters who tend to turn out the most, there’s just no appetite for expanding gaming yet again,” he said. “As it is, opposition is some combination of not wanting to change things without understanding the options, and just plain opposition to more expansion of gambling in the state. Supporters have to explain what they’re proposing, and hope that voters are going to buy in.”