Tight Race In Election To Allow Sports Betting On New Jersey Colleges

October 8, 2021
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Recent polling indicates trouble for a November 2 referendum to allow betting on college games in New Jersey.

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Recent polling indicates trouble for a November 2 referendum to allow betting on college games in New Jersey.

Released September 29 by Stockton University near Atlantic City, a poll showed 45 percent of New Jersey voters oppose the referendum, while 40 percent support it.

Conducted between September 17 and September 25, the poll included responses from 552 likely voters with a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

Despite leading the nation in gross gaming revenue from sports betting, New Jersey prohibits wagers on its college teams and out-of-state teams playing games in New Jersey.

Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C. are taking live bets.

In that group, New Jersey and D.C., as well as eight other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington — prohibit any wagers on in-state collegiate teams, according to VIXIO GamblingCompliance research.

“I think the referendum will pass notwithstanding the poll,” said Dennis Drazin, the author of the New Jersey law validated by the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic May 14, 2018, decision which launched the legal sports-betting industry in North America.

Drazin said the New Jersey sports-betting law, which was steered through the state legislature by former Democratic state Senator Ray Lesniak, included the college betting prohibition to “achieve a mandate of support.”

“I think it would have passed anyway (without the ban on college sports),” said Drazin, an attorney who manages Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, New Jersey.

“Anyone who wanted to bet on a New Jersey college team drove to [neighboring] Pennsylvania to wager,” Drazin said.

Even if the New Jersey referendum passes, it is unclear if there will be a ripple effect on other states with bans on college sports wagers.

Illinois bettors grumbled this year when they had to drive across the state border to Indiana to wager on a March Madness college basketball game featuring the University of Illinois against DePaul University of Chicago.

“New Jersey’s voter action will have little political impact on what the Illinois legislature decides to do regarding betting on Illinois college sports,” said Steve Brubaker, a sports-betting analyst and lobbyist who lives near the state capital of Springfield.

Before adjourning its regular session at the end of May, the Illinois House of Representatives passed SB 521, a bill by Democratic state Representative Mike Zalewski of Chicago to allow wagers on college games in the Prairie State.

Brubaker said he does not expect Zalewski’s bill to pass the Illinois Senate, but the measure still might come up during next month’s veto session in the state legislature.

Tom Farrey, founder of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, said his organization has not taken a position on the New Jersey referendum.

“More important, I think, is whether local sports programs are able to benefit from the legalization of sports betting,” Farrey said.

“We need more states to follow the lead of New York and dedicate a share of sports betting proceeds to youth recreation in underserved communities. Take from the treetops to replenish the grassroots.’’

Jane Bokunewicz, director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute at Stockton University, cited an earlier poll which was even more pessimistic about the New Jersey college sports-betting referendum.

The poll, released in the summer by Farleigh-Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, showed 49 percent of voters oppose the college sports-betting referendum, compared with only 25 percent who support it.

Another 23 percent said they were unsure.

“New Jersey’s collegiate sports teams are competitive, and when they make it to major sporting events like the March Madness (College Basketball) Tournament, the inability to legally wager on them has the effect of suppressing overall wagering on the event and reducing revenue generated for the state,” Bokunewicz said.

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