New Jersey

Chris Christie Stalls on New Jersey Sports Betting Bill Signing

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie continues to walk a political tightrope with the future of the state’s planned online sportsbetting.  Senate Bill S2250, which would remove restrictions against accepting wagers on sports at New Jersey’s land-based casinos and racetracks, remains unsigned on Christie’s desk, fast approaching an August 10th veto deadline at which point the bill would automatically become law.

New JerseyLast week, New Jersey State Senator Ray Lesniak publicly blasted Christie for his failure to quickly sign the bill, which sailed through both houses of the New Jersey state legislature on nearly unanimous votes.  Christie’s current foot-dragging comes despite his previous support of the New Jersey referendum which approved sports betting in the state, and his blasting of the federal PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) law which the nation’s major sports associations used to bar the state’s first attempt to introduce sports betting, despite voter and legislative approval.

So what’s the hangup?  Why has Lesniak continued to put pressure on Christie to sign the bill?

The problem is that the bill and the future of sportsbetting in New Jersey is integrally entwined with Christie’s own future political aspirations.  Christie has spent the last few years positioning himself for a possible run at the US presidency, and the attempt to legalize sportsbetting in New Jersey — while a strongly popular issue within the state — runs against the positions commonly held by Christie’s Republican party on the national stage.

Legalized sportsbetting plays very poorly as an issue among the GOP’s policy-making nabobs, given the sports leagues’ deep-pocketed willingness to allow legalized game-to-game bets anywhere outside Nevada’s grandfathered borders.  The NFL, according to media reports, has threatened to again file suit against the state if Christie signs S2250 or allows it to pass unsigned, or if the state’s legislature overrides a Christie veto.  That comes despite the bill’s specific action to work around the technical PASPA point that allowed the earlier version of New Jersey’s sportsbetting approval to be challenged in federal court.

And then there’s … you guessed it … Sheldon Adelson.  The evil CEO of Nevada-based Las Vegas Sands Corporation has committed large quantities of his multi-billion dollar fortune to usurping the American political scene, defiling traditional American democratic beliefs and spending tens of millions of dollars on politicians who will commit to doing his bidding.  Sports fans and poker players most often see Adelson’s nasty influence when it comes to his attempts to shut down all forms of online gambling within the US, centered through the Adelson-funded Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG).

CSIG keeps itself in the headlines by spending a million or two every few weeks by buying another politician, and the general aim of the group is clear: To protect Adelson’s billions by establishing roadblocks to all possible forms of competition to Adelson’s LV Sands empire.

Adelson, of course, became a major kingmaker in the last US presidential election.  First he stuffed at least $16.5 million worth of support behind Newt Gingrich — a close political friend of Adelson’s — and when Gingrich’s presidential bid inevitably blew up, Adelson threw millions more behind Mitt Romney.  Both presidential wannabes, according to reports, were expected to support Adelson’s anti-online gambling stance as a condition of receiving the funding.

Of course, they lost.  But there’s always next time, and that’s where the Christie and New Jersey complications figure on the national scene.

Adelson’s been busy as usual, holding all sorts of conventions and fundraisers for major GOP politicians at his Las Vegas Venetian-Palazzo complex.  Included in that was one a fundraiser for US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) at the Palazzo.  Graham has as much connection to Nevada politics as a yak does to tropical rainforests, but he was there to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in Adelson money, and quickly emerged as a major backer of Adelson’s CSIG group, in addition to becoming the sponsor of current federal legislation, drafted by Adelson’s group, that would ban all US online gambling by expanding the reach of the 1961 Wire Act.  That bill shows little signs of moving forward, despite CSIG’s financial ability to draw attention to it.

Another example: This past spring’s Republican Jewish Coalition convention, hosted by Adelson at the Venetian.  All of the major prospective GOP presidential candidates were more or less commanded to attend, although a couple of them declined.  Among those who did appear was Christie, who was then called to task by Adelson for supporting the introduction of online gambling in New Jersey.  Christie, by way of explanation, told Adelson that the online gambling would have passed anyway, even if he had vetoed it, but it’s clear he didn’t win too much support from Adelson during that visit.

Adelson’s deep pockets remain out there, and even if he doesn’t actively support Christie in the 2016 presidential race, what Christie doesn’t want to do is make himself an active target.

That leaves Christie in a political pickle: He can sign S2250 and risk Adelson’s wrath.  He can veto the bill and essentially admit that all his previous pro-sportsbetting statements regarding New Jersey are political bullshit, and that the state’s constituents don’t mean anything compared to his own national aspirations.

Or he can take the third path: Abstention — allowing the bill to become law while later proclaiming some mealy-mouthed reason why he couldn’t sign the bill in its current form, one that would, he hopes, provide him a later political out.

And whatever action Christie chooses, he has to do it in the next six days.

Christie has a long-established practice of sitting on politically difficult matters until the last few hours, and it’s a safe bet that whatever he does, we won’t know until August 10th.  At that point, it’s anyone’s guess, though the betting line just might be the abstention, the non-signing of the bill that still allows New Jersey sportsbetting plans to move forward.  State venues such as Monmouth Park RaceTrack are continuing with plans to offer real-money betting on NFL games this season, and it won’t be long before we learn if those plans will become reality.

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