TRENTON — Legal sports betting could begin in New Jersey at any time, now that the Senate and Assembly have passed legislation allowing it – and removing language from the bill that would penalize any racetracks or casinos that get started before Gov. Phil Murphy enacts it.

The bill, A4111/S2602, was passed 73-0 in the Assembly and 37-0 in the Senate, but it’s not clear how quickly he’ll sign it. Bills are generally reviewed by a governor’s legal counsel before they’re signed and it appears unlikely the bill will be signed this week.

“Gov. Murphy looks forward to closely reviewing the sports betting legislation that was recently passed by the Legislature,” said spokesman Dan Bryan. “The governor has long been supportive of New Jersey's right to allow sports betting and he wants to ensure that the proposed regulatory scheme is fair and reasonable."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he hopes Monmouth Park racetrack in Oceanport starts taking sports bets Friday.

“Absolutely. If I could get there, and my schedule’s busy, I would go place one myself,” Sweeney said. “But not on the Eagles – the Green Bay Packers.”

That’s not currently prohibited by state law, and language in the proposal that would have made then ineligible for a sports-betting license if they opened early was removed Thursday.

“The constitutional question and what the Supreme Court ruled, he really can go tomorrow if he wants. That’s his call,” Sweeney said.

“We asked everyone to wait. They did. Now it’s time to get started,” Sweeney said.

Dennis Drazin, the operator of Monmouth Park, said he hopes to be able to allow former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak to place the first bet – on the Giants to win the Super Bowl, for which Lesniak thinks he’ll get 40-to-1 odds – at 5 p.m. Friday.

“I hope the governor signs it so there’s no question about whether or not we can open,” Drazin said. “We’re hoping to be open tomorrow. But right now I’m just checking off the boxes in terms of getting that accomplished.”

“I hope that can happen,” Drazin said. “If there are any delays, that’s life.”

Drazin didn’t rule out opening Friday even if the law isn’t yet enacted by Murphy.

“I’m evaluating that right now. We have a corporate partner, William Hill, that is managing our sports book,” Drazin said. "He needs to get corporate clearance from his higher-ups before we can announce that we’re actually taking bets. Monmouth will consider opening anyway regardless, perhaps for these charity bets we’ve been talking about.”

In addition to removing the poison pill for tracks that take bets early, the legislation was amended to:

  • Allow sports betting at the Golden Nugget on all sports except the NBA; the owner of the casino also owns the Houston Rockets franchise.
  • Say that former racetracks don’t automatically get a liquor license.
  • Have racetracks’ sports betting licenses be issued by the casino regulators at the Division of Gaming Enforcement, rather than the Racing Commission.

Sweeney said the Legislature and Governor’s Office went back and forth on changes to the bill throughout Wednesday and “did about probably 95 percent of what he asked us to change.”

“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t move quickly on this because then it’s just punitive if you don’t move quickly,” Sweeney said.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said he doesn’t know how quickly Murphy will sign it though noted that “the sooner this is in place, the sooner revenue flows.” He said he didn’t know how Monmouth Park would proceed, if there’s a delay.

“Green light’s not far away. It’s just a question of when, not if,” Burzichelli said.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, a former casino executive, said the addition of sports betting will add to the renaissance of Atlantic City by bringing additional visitors.

“There are ample benefits of bringing legalized gaming into our state,” Caputo said. “It’s jobs, development. It’s more people to Atlantic City. It’s about more revenue for our state budget and vital programs that pay to help our families.”

Burzichelli noted New Jersey didn’t even allow bingo until the 1950s but will soon have legal sports betting.

“But I say to everybody: This doesn’t fix everything. It’s just another piece of something,” Burzichelli said. “It’s going to help Atlantic City. It’s going to help our racetracks. But it doesn’t solve all of our problems.”

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