09/08/2014 2:51PM

New Jersey directive allows sports betting

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued a directive Monday allowing the state’s casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting effective immediately, an unusual move that is sure to be challenged by sports leagues that had won earlier court rulings finding that sports betting in the state would violate federal law.

The directive, which was issued by the state’s attorney general to all law-enforcement agencies in the state, including local police, states that New Jersey will exempt any casino or racetrack from criminal or legal liability for offering sports betting as long as the bets are not made on any sporting event that takes place in New Jersey or involves any New Jersey collegiate team.

The directive is the latest twist in a two-year effort by New Jersey to open up the state to sports betting, in part to mollify Atlantic City casino interests that have suffered from the rapid expansion of gambling in the Northeast over the past decade. Monmouth Park also has offered its support for the legalization of sports betting.

Dennis Drazin, the head of the horsemen’s group that is leasing Monmouth Park from the state, praised the directive in a statement released Monday. In the statement, Drazin said that sports betting would be offered at Monmouth “in the very, very near future,” without being specific.

The legislature passed a law in 2012 allowing sports betting at casinos and racetracks, but the law was challenged by most major-league sports organizations and the NCAA. Both a U.S. District Court and an appeals court ruled that offering sports betting would violate a federal law passed in 1992.

The Christie directive cites a narrow portion of both rulings contending that the 1992 federal law does not prohibit states from removing their own prohibitions on sports gambling. However, that position does not address the federal prohibition that still applies to sports betting, and opponents of the practice are likely to seek stays of the activity while they appeal to federal courts.