NJ Online Gambling Fans Owe A Thank You To Relentless Gaming Supporter Ray Lesniak

Jessica Welman August 21, 2017
NJ online gambling Sen. Lesniak
There are plenty of lawmakers in New Jersey who support the online gaming industry. It is tough to think of someone who has done more than Sen. Ray Lesniak though. A member of the state Senate since 1983, the longtime Democrat is constantly introducing bills to benefit the gaming industry.

Most recently, Lesniak introduced a bill that would revise the server requirement for online casinos in New Jersey. The revision, should it pass, would open up the possibility for the state to have compacts with other markets, both in the US and abroad.

However, Lesniak’s contribution to the New Jersey online casino industry stretches far beyond this latest proposed bill. Let’s take a look at what Lesniak has accomplished for gaming, especially online gaming, during his tenure.

NJ online gambling efforts

2010: Lesniak begins his quest for legal online gambling in New Jersey

During a time when offshore casino and poker sites were still printing money, Lesniak saw the opportunity online casinos presented. On New Year’s Day, he kicked the year off by introducing S3167, his first online gambling bill.

A short time later, a similar bill popped up in the state Assembly. Lesniak was the first to make headway with his proposal, however. The Senate almost unanimously passed the bill in November, while it would be the following year before the Assembly acted on the other proposal.

2011: Christie foils Lesniak’s plans

The Assembly passed its version of the online gambling bill on Jan. 1. It incorporated some amendments from Lesniak’s proposal, then went back through the Senate.

Things were looking good for the measure until Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill in March. With Christie’s anti-online gambling stance, the chance Lesniak would be able to push through iGaming legislation was slim.

However, at year’s end, after Black Friday shut down the major offshore players, the Department of Justice issued an opinion on the Federal Wire Act. More specifically, the opinion said the 1961 law did not apply to online gambling. The shift meant several states felt more comfortable passing laws allowing for intrastate online gambling.

One important person who changed his mind? Christie.

2012: Lesniak tries again

Knowing Christie softened his stance on online casinos, Lesniak once again introduced legislation allowing for online casinos. He worked to get the bill passed in December. But Christie still needed to sign off.

2013: Christie and Lesniak reach an iGaming compromise

When Christie first got the second online casino bill, he actually vetoed it again. This time he was willing to compromise, though.

Lesniak listened to Christie’s concerns and redrafted the bill. The revised version got through the legislature and signed into law on the same day.

With that, New Jersey became the third state to legalize and regulate online poker and the second to do so for online casinos. The decision would prove to be a profitable one.

Not four years later, the industry has already generated over $600 million in total revenue. Of that, over $100 million in taxes have gone back to the state.

New Jersey sports betting case

In addition to online casinos, Lesniak’s other casino industry passion project is bringing sports betting to the Garden State. That project is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court. Lesniak is part of the group fighting to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

They have some formidable opponents — all of the major sports leagues.

2011: Lesniak introduces his first sports betting bill

After a voter referendum approved the idea of sports betting in the state by a 2-1 margin, Lesniak introduced a bill to allow sports betting at casinos and race tracks.

Even though PASPA was still in effect, Lesniak and other lawmakers planned to pass the bill and move forward anyway. In fact, Lesniak was fully expecting the federal government and the sports leagues to challenge their efforts.

2012: Christie signs sports betting into law

Christie signed the sports betting measure into law. Things continued to move ahead, with the Division of Gambling Enforcement even drawing up a regulatory framework.

In a move that surprised no one, the major sports leagues banded together and filed an emergency injuction in the courts.

2013: Leagues – 1, New Jersey – 0

With the injuction in place, the battle between the state and the leagues headed to court. Twice.

First, the District Court looked at the case, siding with the leagues. Then the Third Cicuit Court agreed.

Legalizing sports betting was a tactic that did not work. But Lesniak had another idea.

2014: Don’t regulate sports betting, repeal the laws against it

Lesniak decided it was time to take another approach to the sports betting efforts. He decided rather than legalize sports betting, the state should stop trying to actively regulate betting.

Instead, he introduced a bill to repeal the state’s existing laws prohibiting sports betting. His thought was that once the state made it clear it did not think wagering was illegal, the tracks and casinos would feel more comfortable accepting bets.

The question was if the federal government would intervene. The answer would end up being yes.

2016: The sports betting case ascends the judicial system

Once again, the leagues filed with the courts. Once again, the courts took their side.

After the District Court sided with the leagues, the Circuit Court heard an appeal in August. The Circuit Court ruled that the repeal may help decriminalize friendly wagers between private citizens. Nonetheless, the panel of judges decided the state did not have the power to write a law with such a sweeping scope.

New Jersey was not ready to fold. It requested an en banc hearing of the Circuit Court, only to end up with the same result. The only court left to appeal to was the Supreme Court.

2017: Sports betting and Lesniak get their day in court

It seemed unlikely the highest court in the land would take on such a case. However, in June of this year, SCOTUS announced it was going to hear arguments on PAPSA.

Lesniak was part of the efforts all the way. Now that he is poised to be part of history, he spoke to Politico about how much the efforts mean to him and how much stock he is putting in this final decision:

“I’ve been fighting this battle for seven years I got knocked down five times. I’ve gotten up and kept fighting. Never gave up, and now we’re on the brink of victory.”

Lesniak has always been relentless.

Without that persistence on the gambling industry’s side, there is a chance things would still look quite dire in Atlantic City. Instead, the city is turning around. Other states marvel in jealousy at the successful online casino market. And now Lesniak’s efforts could have national implications if PASPA gets overturned.

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