12/14/2010 4:43PM

Gambling bills go to New Jersey governor for signature

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Bills that would legalize exchange wagering in New Jersey and ease the expansion of the state’s offtrack betting network passed the state Assembly on Monday and have been sent to Gov. Chris Christie.

The bills are supported by the state’s racing industries, and they form part of a spate of racing and gambling legislation that has been passed over the past two weeks by the state’s legislature to address declines in the racing industry and at Atlantic City casinos. Representatives of Christie’s office did not return phone calls by Tuesday afternoon.

The exchange-wagering bill, pushed by Television Games Network’s parent company, Betfair, would require the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, to solicit requests for proposals from possible operators. Horsemen would retain veto rights over any business arrangement the state reaches with the exchange-wagering operator under the Interstate Horseracing Act, according to racing officials.

Exchange wagering has become highly popular in the United Kingdom and Australia, but racetracks and horsemen in those jurisdictions have criticized the share of revenues they retain from the bets. Many U.S. racing officials share those concerns, and others have said that the federal Justice Department – which continues to maintain that interstate simulcasting is illegal – may rule that exchange wagering violates prohibitions on bookmaking.

Exchange wagering allows bettors to offer prices on horses and then accept bets on those prices. Betfair has argued that the practice is a form of parimutuel betting, but parimutuel betting is already legal in the United States, and the company has not entered any U.S. markets as it continues to push for specific legislation authorizing the practice. A bill legalizing exchange wagering as of 2012 passed in California earlier this year.

The offtrack betting legislation seeks to provide incentives and remove barriers to opening new facilities in the state. So far, only two OTBs are in operation, and supporters of the legislation have said that zoning and licensing restrictions need to be eased in order to expand the network.