Raymond Lesniak

Ray Lesniak for New Jersey Governor Means Few Gaming Changes

One of the stories making the rounds on a slow-gaming-news Monday is the presumptive gubernatorial candidacy of New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak.  Lesniak is a pro-gambling and pro-casino candidate in one of the United States’ most liberal, progressive, and pro-gaming states, and he appears poised to challenge the state’s sitting Governor, the suddenly vulnerable but high-profile Chris Christie.

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (c) @SenatorLesniak

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak
(c) @SenatorLesniak

It was a little over a week ago that Lesniak announced that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election to the New Jersey State Senate, where he would have been a clear favorite for re-election.  Instead, he informally announced his planned run for Christie’s governor’s chair, hoping to return that office to the Democratic column in what has — despite Christie’s political success — a heavily Democratic state.

In what such prominent political outlets such as Politico have deemed a “go big or go home” move, Lesniak has openly cast his gaze upon Christie’s seat.  “If I don’t run for governor, I’m not running for reelection,” said Lesniak. “Forty years will be plenty for me. I need to do more and I can’t do more without being governor, so that’s why I’m running.”

Lesniak, 69, has been the leader of New Jersey’s pro-gaming initiatives over the past decade.  He was the state’s legislative leader of the push to bring regulated online gambling to New Jersey, which remains one of just three US states (along with Nevada and Delaware) to have taken the official plunge.  Lesniak has also been the leading force behind New Jersey’s attempts to override the United States’ federal level PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) against legalized sports betting in most US states, including New Jersey.

From a gambler’s standpoint, or that of the gambling industry, these are all great things.  Yet a successful Lesniak candidacy is unlikely to change too much in the way of New Jersey and gambling politics, if only because New Jersey, with Lesniak working on the state’s casinos’ behalf, has already accomplished the majority of what the state itself can do.

It’s not Christie’s fault that New Jersey’s nascent online gambling industry hasn’t come close to meeting its pre-regulatory, very rosy revenue projections — even if Christie’s office was among the sources, back around 2011 or so, floating some of those pie-in-the-sky numbers.  Growth has been coming, slowly, though the state’s online fortunes can climb only so far in the face of the US national vacuum regarding online gambling that continues to exist.

Similarly, though Lesniak has been a driving force behind New Jersey’s efforts to introduce legalized sports betting, that cause will be settled either in the federal court system or in the US Congress, when PASPA itself is either nullified or rewritten.  Way back in that same 2011 timeframe, New Jersey’s voters approved legalized sports betting; it’s only because of the ongoing lawsuit against the state’s plans by North America’s prominent sports associations (the NFL, NHL, NCAA, NBA and MLB), that PASPA continues to hold sway.

Lesniak can’t really do any more on these fronts.  Those battles have already been fought… and largely won.

Only one development really could be expected regarding online gambling in New Jersey in the event of a Lesniak gubernatorial tenure.  That would be the rapid approval of Amaya Gaming’s PokerStars brand to conduct business in New Jersey.  The PokerStars application remains held in limbo for officially unexplained reasons, though Lesniak himself has accused Governor Christie of sitting on the Stars application as a political favor for GOP megadonor heavyweight and anti-online gambling activist, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson isn’t believed to be a strong backer of Christie’s own 2016 presidential bid anyway, but Adelson has a history of agreeing not to directly attack candidates who agree to do him certain favors.  It’s a special Adelson-practiced form of sideways political blackmail, for lack of a better term.  Adelson’s buddy-buddy relationship with Nevada’s US Senator, Harry Reid is an example, wherein one of the GOP’s richest donors (Adelson) has agreed not to spend heavily to oust a would-be opponent, in this case the Democratic Majority Leader Reid.

Lesniak is more likely to blow raspberries in Adelson’s general direction than kowtow to him on gambling interests important to New Jersey.  Frankly, for most of New Jersey — and America in general — that’d be fun to see.  Christie, already damaged goods in the eyes of many regarding his Presidential hopes, continues to make nice in Adelson’s direction whenever possible, even though the chances of his own campaign catching some of those Adelson dollars is vanishingly small.

Lesniak would appear to have a real shot at unseating Christie in New Jersey’s 2016 governor’s election, if Lesniak himself can emerge as the state’s Democratic candidate.  But don’t expect a Lesniak gubernatorial term to result in too many real changes, save the approval of that PokerStars brand name.  From a gambling standpoint, Lesniak has already done plenty.


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