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Later this week, gamblers in New Jersey will get their first chance to place legal bets on sports games. The U.S. Supreme Court last month overturned the federal ban on sports betting. The decision came in a case with roots in the Garden State. Joe Hernandez from member station WHYY the story.
JOE HERNANDEZ, BYLINE: Ten years ago, the former mayor of Union City, Rudy Garcia, went to place a bet with his bookie. What he didn't know was that it was an FBI sting. Garcia was arrested and charged. His friend, Ray Lesniak, heard what happened to Garcia and found the whole ordeal unfair.
RAY LESNIAK: I got very, very concerned that what he - he was arrested for doing something here in New Jersey that he could have gotten on a plane and put in a bet in Las Vegas.
HERNANDEZ: Lesniak was a state senator at the time, so he decided to do something about it. He and the administration of then-Governor Chris Christie went to court with the four major sports leagues and the NCAA who wanted to keep the federal ban on sports betting in place. That produced a years-long legal battle, which finally ended in May when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was unconstitutional.
LESNIAK: And all along no one gave me a chance - not one. All these great legal minds, you know, Lesniak has no idea what he's talking about. There's no way this is going to happen. That's why I feel just a little bit self-satisfaction.
HERNANDEZ: Gambling analysts say the legalization of sports betting could become a huge moneymaker for states across the country. The New Jersey Treasurer guesses that the state will earn about $13 million in tax dollars from sports betting in its first year. Others say that's conservative. The American Gaming Association estimates that people in the U.S. illegally wager $150 billion on sports annually. But the legalization of sports betting nationally hasn't come without its hiccups in New Jersey. Critics continue to oppose it, even if some of their arguments are still hypothetical. Here's Bryan Seeley of Major League Baseball testifying at the New Jersey state Legislature.
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BRYAN SEELEY: If casinos have information that a fix is in, if casinos see the brother of a player come into a casino 10 minutes before a game, place a large bet on his brother to perform poorly in the game, and make comments about how the fix is in, the casinos have no obligation under this law to contact us directly and let us know.
HERNANDEZ: And it's not just the MLB that's concerned. The four major professional sports leagues, including basketball, football and hockey, as well as the NCAA, continue to argue that legalized sports betting could compromise the integrity of their games. But the leagues have run out of cards to play. And last week, the state legislature unanimously passed a bill that lays the groundwork for sports betting in New Jersey. On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy signed it, and that makes Dennis Drazin happy. Drazin runs the Central New Jersey racetrack Monmouth Park.
DENNIS DRAZIN: Sports betting means survival for Monmouth Park.
HERNANDEZ: Drazin also heads the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which filed suit against the leagues as well and spent more than a million dollars in legal fees. He says horseracing is an unsustainable business model and that the track needs a second source of revenue. That's why Drazin and sports betting company William Hill spent millions to develop a sports bar and grandstand at Monmouth Park while the lawsuits were still winding their way through the courts. The track gambled big on sports betting and won.
DRAZIN: I'm happy with this. We're going to make money. We're going to save racing. The state's going to make money. This is a win-win for everybody.
HERNANDEZ: Now, it's time to cash in. For NPR News, I'm Joe Hernandez.
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