Lesniak urging casinos and tracks to go ahead with sports betting

Jessica Perry//August 16, 2012

Lesniak urging casinos and tracks to go ahead with sports betting

Jessica Perry//August 16, 2012

The senator says tracks are getting “D-minus” advice from their lawyers on how to proceed following a lawsuit by the four major professional leagues and the NCAA seeking to block New Jersey from legalizing sports betting.

State Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) has urged the state’s casinos and racetracks to take sports bets despite a lawsuit from the sports leagues seeking to bar the practice.

According to Lesniak, the businesses are reluctant to take sports bets in the face of the lawsuit, based on what he called bad legal advice. Lesniak, a law partner in Weiner Lesniak, of Parsippany, said the legal reasoning displayed by attorneys advising the businesses against accepting sports bets would earn a “D-minus” grade in a first-year law class.

Lesniak said the sports leagues would be unsuccessful in getting an injunction to stop the betting while a U.S. District Court judge hears the case. This would allow the casinos and racetracks to reap six months of profits before a court ruling, Lesniak said. The leagues would have to prove that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if sports betting was allowed to advance.

“There’s no way the leagues could prove irreparable harm,” he said.

Lesniak said he has received indications that at least some of the casinos and tracks are reluctant, fearing that they could face criminal prosecution for taking the bets.

“I think they’re absolutely, totally wrong and misguided, and getting bad advice,” Lesniak said.

Not all of the potential applicants are opposed to launching at least some form of sports betting once they receive a license.

Dennis Drazin, who heads the group operating Monmouth Park, said the track is planning to apply for a license and then build the infrastructure needed to host sports betting. At the very least, he said, that will allow the venue to offer “free play” sports wagering, which results in non-cash prizes like casino hotel rooms or meals.

“We definitely think we can do the free play without any concern about anyone raising a fuss,” Drazin said. “And once we’re licensed — I think by the time they actually give us a license — hopefully the courts will have heard the league’s request for the injunction.”

He agreed it was unlikely that the leagues could satisfy the irreparable harm standard, so he hopes to be taking bets by Nov. 1. He added the operating group will “obey any court order, but we’re trying to gear up so that we’re in a position to actually take bets.”

The state’s regulations require sports wagering facilities to have features like large-screen televisions, cage areas and a system for distinguishing sports bettors from race bettors — investments that are required even for free play.

In the meantime, Drazin’s group is allowing the state to take the lead in filing a response to the leagues’ lawsuit, he said. But the group also plans to file a separate complaint or “move to intervene in the litigation very soon.”

Senior gaming industry lobbyist William J. Pascrell III, of Princeton Public Affairs Group, said he was meeting with casino executives today to encourage them to move forward with plans to take sports bets.

“I think, as an attorney, it’s in the casinos’ and racetracks’ best interest to bring sports betting to New Jersey post-haste,” Pascrell said, adding that the businesses should both be involved in the litigation and “more practically, they should be involved in setting up sports books in their respective gaming houses.”

Both Lesniak and Pascrell pointed out that the National Football League holds games every year at Wembley Stadium, in London, where sports betting is allowed.