Sports betting bill clears first hurdles in Legislature

Dennis Drazin felt elated as the bill to regulate sports betting in New Jersey raced into the home stretch.

“This day has finally come. As all of you know, this has been a long struggle for New Jersey,” said Drazin, who runs Monmouth Park.

He’s past ready to get started, especially since the state of Delaware will start taking sports bets tomorrow. A sense of haste underscored testimony at the Assembly committee hearing on Monday.

“The state of Delaware, they will take their first sports bet under this new SCOTUS decision. It’s unfortunate that they beat us to the punch. So we have to keep, I believe, Mr. Chairman, the pedal to the metal,” testified Bill Pascrell III, a lobbyist for the industry.

“I think it’s a fair compromise and fairly represents what the state is trying to do to help casinos and racetracks,” Drazin said of the bill that was up for consideration in the hearing.

That bill permits sports betting at licensed racetracks, Atlantic City casinos and online. It’d tax casino and track revenues at 8.5 percent, and online sports betting revenues at 13 percent and those proceeds would go to the general fund. Another 1.25 percent would be paid to local towns and counties. But the bill contains no so-called integrity fee for major league sports, though league reps argued Monday that it should at least promote information-sharing safeguards against corruption.

“Under this bill that is under consideration today, New Jersey’s sports betting market is going to be as nontransparent to us and the other sports leagues as the illegal, offshore betting markets are today,” argued Bryan Seeley, a representative sent by Major League Baseball. “Part of my job is to protect the fans of baseball in this state, and I need tools to do that.”

“You guys are in it to make money,” interjected Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, “You’re not interested in protecting anybody. This is hypocrisy. To the fullest extent.”

Caputo, who chairs the committee, curtly told leagues that New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement will be in charge of security.

“And you guys are objecting to it unless you get a piece of the action. This is ridiculous. Nine years of fighting the state of New Jersey and you come in here … this is a disgrace!”

Former Major League Baseball player Al Leiter pitched an argument:

“Honestly, I don’t care about the money, Mr. Chairman, I do care about my sport,” Leiter argued. “I care about all sports.”

But Caputo told witnesses the bill would proceed with no changes and it was voted out of the Tourism Committee and out of Senate Appropriations unanimously.

“This bill has to go through and get signed into law. The thorns will always come up, and when the thorns rise, we’ll deal with them. But at this point I think we’ve gone as far as we can,” said Caputo.

“Hopefully the Administration is paying attention to it, and is weighing in with our staffs if there’s things they have concerns about. Once we get a bill to the governor, we have no control over it,” explained Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“We are not thrilled that Delaware is first tomorrow, but it’s not going to hurt us,” said Drazin. “We’re going to be ready, willing and able to go on Friday.”

The Speaker and the Senate President have both promised to get this bill passed on Thursday. The big question is, when will the governor sign it?