01/31/2011 6:41PM

New Jersey governor Christie signs exchange-betting bill


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed bills on Monday that will legalize exchange wagering and a new method of pooling parimutuel wagers, the governor's office said on Monday. Both bills were supported by elements of the racing industry as the state continues to pursue ways to help the state's beleaguered gambling industries.

Christie also vetoed a bill on Monday that supporters said would streamline the process by which offtrack betting locations are approved and built. In a statement released by his office, Christie said that he exercised a "conditional veto" of the bill because the state is continuing to negotiate the possible sale or lease of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority's two racetracks, Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands, and the bill could have negative consequences on those efforts unless reworked.

As written, the offtrack betting bill gives horsemen's groups and other private operators the right to pursue licenses for offtrack betting locations if all of the unused licenses are not issued by the end of 2011. In the statement, Christie said that potential buyers or lease-holders of the racetrack would need assurances that they would be able to pursue the licenses on a realistic time scale.

"I am recommending that the legislation be revised to clarify that negotiations concerning the transfer or assignment of offtrack wagering locations in the context of a potential sale or lease of a racetrack shall be deemed 'progress' toward the establishment of such facilities," Christie said.

The bill legalizing exchange wagering would allow the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to contract with an exchange-wagering operator, provided constituents in the racing industry, such as horsemen's groups, approve of the deal.

Exchange wagering was pioneered by Betfair, a British company that two years ago bought Television Games Network. The company has been aggressively pursuing legislation allowing exchange wagering since the TVG acquisition. Last year, California passed a bill allowing for exchange wagering in 2012 as long as the racing industry comes to an agreement with an exchange-wagering operator.

Exchange-wagering operations allow their customers to post odds on horses and accept bets. Supporters have said that exchange wagering can attract new customers to Thoroughbred racing, but critics have said that the operations have yet to devise a business model that would properly compensate horsemen and tracks. In addition, some critics contend that the type of betting offered on exchange-wagering sites violates federal prohibitions on bookmaking.

The second bill that Christie signed would allow for single-pool wagering, a new method of pooling bets devised by a New York investment strategies company. The method combines all wagers of all bet types into one single pool, but payouts are still determined by the amount of money bet on the winning horse or combination of horses, according to Dennis Dowd, a former official of the state's sports authority who lobbied for the legislation on behalf of the company that developed it. Dowd has said that the new method could allow for new bet types, such as betting on a horse to finish second, and only second.

Christie has yet to indicate whether he will sign legislation that was passed on Jan. 10 that would direct $30 million over three years from a state casino regulatory agency to purses at racetracks, a measure that is heavily supported by the industry. Under the plan, purses would receive a $15 million subsidy in the first year, a $10 million subsidy in the second, and a $5 million subsidy in the third.

Under New Jersey law, Christie has 45 days to decide whether to sign or veto legislation. Officials in Christie's office said that the governor's policy is to withhold comment on any legislation on his desk until he has decided to approve or reject it. Christie has said repeatedly in the past that he does not believe the state should subsidize racing.